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Promote Early Childhood Health and Development

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. Strategies to improve health and academic outcomes in young children include promoting nurturing and responsive relationships with parents and caregivers, fostering stimulating and engaging learning environments at home and in early care and education settings, and encouraging daily activity and healthful nutrition, beginning with infant breastfeeding.  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 provides 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 promotes early learning standards, workforce development, quality rating systems for early education programs, and connections between early learning programs and programs that provide high-quality health, nutrition, mental health, and family support services.

HHS also supports Linking Actions for Unmet Needs of Children’s Health (Project LAUNCH) which implements evidence-based practices that promote and enhance behavioral health and wellness of young children from birth to age eight by helping to coordinate efforts of key child-serving systems and integrate behavioral and physical health services.

Promote High-Quality and Accountable Programs

HHS is dedicated to improving the quality of the early learning and development programs children experience 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, 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 also is working through implementation and evaluation of the Designation Renewal System to ensure that Head Start and Early Head Start agencies receiving federal funds provide high quality comprehensive education and development services, meet Head Start’s quality standards, and promote learning and healthy development among 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) 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 is evaluating the current monitoring system.  Further, HHS is actively looking at ways to align Head Start with other early care and education efforts including child care and state Pre-K programs.

Ensure an Effective Workforce for Early Care and Education Settings

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 and through training of early care providers in practices to create healthful learning environments in center-based and family-based child care under the Let’s Move! Child Care initiative.  The CLASS evaluation effort will help inform the professional development needs of the workforce. The Let’s Move! Child Care initiative develops providers’ skills in establishing and implementing nutrition and physical activity standards for children in their care.  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, as well as develop in-service training, coaching, and mentoring for the early learning workforce.

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 and supporting standards on health, safety, behavioral screening and follow-up practices, including guidelines for preventative activities such as newborn and childhood screenings, well-child visits and immunizations. These guidelines are an important part of quality improvement for Head Start and Early Head Start settings, child care, and other early care and education settings.  HHS also is 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 their families are able to provide stimulating learning environments at home.