New nonprofit

New statewide early childhood non-profit launches

Preschool students at McGlone Elementary in Denver work on a project together.

A new non-profit backed by several influential foundations launched this spring with the goal of improving the state’s early childhood systems.

The Denver-based organization, called Early Milestones Colorado, is meant to accelerate innovation by serving as an intermediary to the various state agencies, community organizations, and private sector groups that do early childhood work in the state.

Six funders contributed a total of $300,000 to launch Early Milestones. They include the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Denver Foundation, Rose Community Foundation, Chambers Family Fund, and the Cydney and Tom Marsico Family Foundation.

Jennifer Stedron, the group’s executive director, compared Early Milestones’ mission in the early childhood world to the Colorado Education Initiative’s mission in the K-12 world. The latter group collaborates closely with the Colorado Department of Education and local school districts to incubate innovative programs.

final logo colors
PHOTO: Micaela Watts

Bill Jaeger, vice president for early childhood initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said one of the challenges of early childhood work is that it touches on many different domains, including early learning, physical health, mental health, and family support.

“That makes it incredibly difficult to work across the siloes we’ve built,” he said.

“Milestones has the opportunity to serve as this hub of information and a sort of conduit across these siloes.”

National context

Intermediary organizations like Early Milestones are relatively new. One of the country’s first in the early childhood arena was the North Carolina’s Partnership for Children, founded in 1994.

Leaders from other states soon become so interested in the partnership’s work that the group secured foundation dollars to provide technical assistance grants to states that wanted to improve their own early childhood systems. Colorado was one of the grantees.

One of the recommendations that emerged from that technical assistance process here in the early 2000s was the creation of an early childhood intermediary organization.

“I really see this type of organization as a partner with government, but it also plays a unique role in questioning the system and requiring accountability for children,” said Karen Ponder, former president of the North Carolina Partnership.

Ponder estimated that 20 states have some kind of early-childhood intermediary organization, though they differ significantly in size, scope and structure.

Elsa Holguín, president of the Early Milestones board and a senior program officer at Rose Community Foundation, said, “This whole concept of creating intermediaries is going to make more and more sense as time goes by.”

Bruce Atchison, executive director of policy and operations at the Education Commission of the States, said while some other states have or are launching similar efforts, it’s not widespread.

“I think what Colorado is doing is kind of in the forefront, in that it’s a separate (non-profit). I think that’s kind of exciting,” he said. “I think it will be a nice model for other states if they’re successful.”

Third leg of the stool

Early Milestones leaders describe the group as the critical third leg on the three-legged stool of early childhood infrastructure. In other words, without that leg the stool tips over.

While there are different versions of the stool analogy, the other two legs are often state agencies and the local early childhood councils across the state.

In Colorado, one of the key state agencies overseeing programs for young children is the Office of Early Childhood, which was created in 2012 within the Department of Human Services. Meanwhile, the top of the stool is the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, a state advisory panel established in 2010.

Holguín said the creation of those two entities, along with an influx of early childhood funding in 2012 from the federal Race to the Top grant, were promising developments, but not enough.

There needed to be a non-profit group that could work as a convener and collaborator. Not only would it bring together government, philanthropy, the business community and other early childhood stakeholders, it would serve as a place to test ideas and programs.

Since state government can’t typically experiment with promising but unproven practices, Early Milestones can help fill that gap.

Starting last fall, Holguin and other foundation leaders presented the concept to groups around the state. While some groups wanted more concrete details, she said there was near universal interest.

“Every time we met with somebody…at the end of every meeting, they would say, “Oh, and I have a project that I need you to do.”’

Three projects underway

While Early Milestones won’t have its official unveiling until later this year, Stedron and her team already have three projects underway.

First is an update of the Early Childhood Colorado Framework, which was first published in 2008. Since then, state and national developments like the Affordable Care Act and a new rating system for child care providers have come along, rendering the original version out of date.

The framework, which outlines the state’s vision and strategy for achieving a strong early childhood environment, is meant to guide the work of local, regional and state leaders.

Sheryl Shusan, manager of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, said Early Milestones played a vital role in facilitating the revision process.

Early Milestones has also developed an expansion plan for Project LAUNCH, a federally-funded program to improve early childhood mental health. That effort came out of a push by several health and early-childhood foundations to use local philanthropy dollars to expand the program’s reach in Colorado.

Stedron said the organization’s work to help plan Project LAUNCH’s expansion is “a great example of the intermediary’s role as a thought partner…someone to help accelerate what is a really good idea.”

Third, Early Milestones is conducting a national scan of state models for educating parents about the importance of and their role in their children’s earliest years.

“It’s been thrilling to embark on some of these projects as we’re in development,” said Stedron.

Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Walton Family Foundation, the Denver Foundation and the Rose Community Foundation. 

Early investment

Foundations put $50 million behind effort to improve lives of young Detroit children

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The heads of the Kresge and W.K. Kellogg foundations, Rip Rapson and La June Montgomery announce a $50 million investment to support the new Hope Starts Here framework.

The two major foundations behind the creation of a ten-year plan to improve the lives of Detroit’s youngest children are putting up $50 million to help put the plan into action.

As they unveiled the new Hope Starts Here framework Friday morning, the Kellogg and Kresge foundations announced they would each spend $25 million in the next few years to improve the health and education of children aged birth to 8 in the city.

The money will go toward upgrading early childhood education centers, including a new Kresge-funded comprehensive child care center that the foundation says it hopes to break ground on next year at a location that has not yet been identified.

Other foundation dollars will go toward a just-launched centralized data system that will keep track of a range of statistics on the health and welfare of young children, and more training and support for early childhood educators.

The announcement at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History drew dozens of parents, educators and community leaders. Among them was Detroit Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti who said one of the major impediments to improving conditions for young children has been divisions between the various government and nonprofit entities that run schools, daycares and health facilities for young kids.

Vitti said the district would do its part to “to break down the walls of territorialism that has prevented this work from happening” in the past.

Watch the video of of the announcement here.

Detroit's future

In a city where 60 percent of young children live in poverty, a ten-year plan aims to improve conditions for kids

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat

A coalition of community groups led by two major foundations has a plan to change the fortunes of Detroit’s youngest citizens.

The Hope Starts Here early childhood partnership is a ten-year effort to tackle a list of bleak statistics about young children in Detroit:

  • More than 60% of Detroit’s children 0-5 live in poverty — more than in any of the country’s 50 largest cities;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too early, compared to nine percent nationally;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too small, compared to eight percent nationally;
  • Detroit has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country;
  • Nearly 30,000 of eligible young Detroiters have no access to high-quality early learning or child care options.
  • That translates to learning problems later on, including the 86.5% of Detroit third graders who aren’t reading at grade level.

Hope Starts Here spells out a plan to change that. While it doesn’t identify specific new funding sources or propose a dramatic restructuring of current programs, the effort led by the Kresge Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, names six “imperatives” to improving children’s lives.

Among them: Promoting the health, development and wellbeing of Detroit children; supporting their parents and caregivers; increasing the overall quality of early childhood programs and improving coordination between organizations that work with young kids. The framework calls for more funding to support these efforts through the combined investments of governments, philanthropic organizations and corporations.

Read the full framework here: