Children’s early experiences are critical in shaping the foundation for their long-term development and growth. Young children are capable of tremendous growth and resilience, even in the face of adversity. Nurturing and responsive relationships with parents and caregivers, as well as stimulating and engaging learning environments at home, in early care, and education settings can help promote positive outcomes in young children. HHS is committed to ensuring the healthy growth and development of all young children by providing high-quality early care and education, ensuring continuity and consistency in quality care and services, and supporting the diverse needs of families of young children.
- Build Successful Early Learning and Development Systems
HHS is supporting states in designing and implementing high-quality services and programs for children through the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), an effort jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Education and HHS. This initiative is a first-of-its-kind competitive program that will provide funding to winning states to bring innovation and quality improvement to the full spectrum of early education programs – including child care, public pre-K, Head Start, and private preschools – with a focus on those programs serving children from disadvantaged and low-income families. RTT-ELC will promote early learning standards, workforce development, quality rating systems for early education programs, and connections between early learning programs and programs providing high-quality health, nutrition, mental health, and family support services.
- Promote High-Quality and Accountable Programs
HHS is dedicated to improving quality and increasing parents’ knowledge and understanding of the program options available to them. As part of this, HHS is promoting in all states the use of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) which is a systemic approach to assess, improve, and communicate to parents the level of quality in early and school-age care and education programs. It links high-quality program standards with quality improvement investments and resources. HHS is also working to ensure that Head Start and Early Head Start agencies receiving federal funds provide the highest quality comprehensive education and development services, meet Head Start’s quality standards, and promote the learning and development of eligible children. Several initiatives have been put in place to support Head Start program staff and administrators in their efforts to improve the quality and comprehensiveness of services delivered to children and families. HHS has implemented the Classroom Assessment Scoring System: Pre-Kindergarten Edition (CLASS: Pre-K), an instrument that allows programs to evaluate and identify areas of improvement in teaching, learning, and the social-emotional climate of classrooms. HHS is providing top-notch technical assistance to Head Start programs to help them bring the best evidence-based early education strategies to all Head Start classrooms, and will require lower performing Head Start programs to compete with other entities for continued funding. HHS has also funded five National Centers on Head Start Excellence that are charged with providing information about evidence-based best practices.
- Ensure an Effective Early Childhood Workforce
HHS is promoting high-quality adult-child interactions in early care and education settings by using the CLASS: Pre-K instrument to assess classroom quality and teacher-child interactions in Head Start and Early Head Start programs. This evaluation effort will help inform the professional development needs of the workforce. HHS is coordinating with the U.S. Department of Education to improve the preparation, credentialing and higher-education opportunities for early childhood teachers and caregivers.
- Support Foundations of Children’s Learning and Development
HHS is supporting the foundations of children’s growth and development by promoting family engagement in early care and education programs and addressing the health, behavioral, and developmental needs of children. HHS is implementing health and safety standards and standards for health and behavioral screening and follow-up practices; these guidelines are an important part of quality improvement for Head Start/Early Head Start settings, child care and other early care and education settings. HHS is also supporting connections between early care and education settings and the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. These efforts will promote positive outcomes for young children by ensuring that they are healthy and ready to learn and that their families are able to provide stimulating learning environments at home.