Many state and local leaders are working to develop an early childhood system to better coordinate programs and services that support early learning and development, health and well-being, and family outreach and education to address identified needs of children and families. The fragmentation of this system is historically due in large part to the multiple federal, state, and local funding streams designed to support children and families prenatally through early elementary school.
In 2007 the Colorado General Assembly established the Early Childhood Councils (HB07-1062) and charged them with “increasing and sustaining the quality, accessibility, capacity, and affordability of early childhood services for children five years of age or younger and their parents” in the areas of: early care and education, family support, mental health, and health. The establishing legislation for the Councils requires a triennial evaluation to understand the status of the state’s efforts to build a cohesive early childhood system across the state. In March 2016 Child Trends, a non-profit research and evaluation organization, partnered with the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Early Childhood (CDHS) to conduct an evaluation that meets these requirements. We developed a study designed to address the following research questions, as required in legislation:
1. What is the overall performance of the Councils?
2. What is the overall performance of the state in meeting the needs of the Councils?
3. To what extent are there feasible opportunities to combine funding sources that are available to the
4. What are the barriers to delivery of quality early childhood services?
5. What is the impact of the rule waiver process?
This study used multiple data collection strategies in order to provide a ‘360 review’ of the Councils’ work, drawing from data provided by the Councils themselves, their community partners, governing members, and early care and education providers. Staff members at CDHS also participated in a key stakeholder interview and several meetings which helped to inform our teams’ understanding of the context for the Councils’ work and the design of our data collection instruments.
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