Early Learning Initiative
Because the first few years of life are critically important and can affect learning, behavior and health over an entire lifetime, we support children’s healthy development and learning from birth to age 3.
Under our current strategic plan, we have focused on increasing the number of high-quality early learning seats for infants and toddlers in the District of Columbia’s Wards 7 and 8. High-quality early learning programs are designed to comprehensively support a child’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development, while also encouraging and supporting family engagement. In addition, we help increase access to health and well-being services for young children and families. To achieve this, we work in two primary and overlapping areas:
- Practice — In collaboration with our practice partners, we enhance the quality and size of early learning programs by supporting technical assistance, professional development and facility enhancements. These quality-improvement measures help programs secure or retain sustainable public funding. We also work with our practice partners to design and implement health, mental health and family-support programs. Our work with practice partners prioritizes young children, especially infants and toddlers, and families living in historically marginalized and resilient communities. The majority of our practice partners are anchored in the communities they serve.
- Policy — We engage policy/advocacy partners to increase public funding for programs and services for young children and families. This work includes public awareness, policy implementation guidance and coalition building. We also provide research and analysis to ensure that policy gaps are addressed and public resources are equitably distributed. Policy partners intentionally center their work on the expertise and experiences of families, mental health care specialists, health care providers, early childhood educators and family engagement specialists.
Examples of our Early Learning work include the following.
As part of our policy work, the Foundation supports advocacy organizations that lead public education and policy campaigns and make the case for investing in a comprehensive system of services and supports for young children and their families in D.C. These advocacy organizations, which involves more than 14 local nonprofit organizations, is currently focused on:
- Ensuring that families have better access to health services and family supports, including prenatal and maternal care, home visiting, mental health services and other wrap-around supports
- Supporting early childhood educators with fair compensation and help in attaining required professional credentials
- Fully funding and expanding the District’s child care subsidy program to make care more affordable for all families
- Informing the equitable distribution of public funds earmarked for young children and their families
- Alleviating barriers created by inequitable and unduly burdensome policies and regulations
High-Quality Early Learning Experiences
- Enhancing and Sustaining Quality Care and Education ― Child care is not only a resource needed for families to work; quality care and education, particularly for infants and toddlers, is essential for child development. Yet, quality is a luxury only a few families can afford. Supports from the Foundation enhance the quality of the curriculum and teaching at early learning programs in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8, where the need is greatest. The Foundation provides professional development and credential preparation for educators, child development screenings for young children, instructional materials and other resources. These resources are selected using data from assessment tools, accreditation and evaluation reports, administrators, educators and families.
- Upgrading and Expanding Existing Facilities ― Facility quality is a critical but often overlooked aspect of early learning quality. The Foundation established the Early Learning Quality Fund (ELQF) to help licensed early learning programs in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 improve their facilities to provide safe, high-quality early environments for infants and toddlers (ages 0 to 3). This fund offers both technical assistance and financing (through a $3.8 million forgivable loan fund established by the Foundation) to help programs make the necessary facility improvements.
- Constructing New Facilities ― In partnership with AdventHealth Foundation and LIFT Orlando, we committed $12.75 million to help build and operate a 150-seat early learning center for infants and toddlers, as part of the revitalization of the West Lakes community near downtown Orlando, Florida. Our investment includes technical assistance for the design, operations, governance and ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the early learning center, as well as financing for the facility’s design, construction and operations. The West Lakes Early Learning Center opened in 2020.
We invest in proven family-engagement tools to help children and families reach their full potential. One such tool is the Parent Café, developed by, Be Strong Families. This nationally recognized model facilitates a series of small-group discussions around five protective factors shown to mitigate the negative impacts of trauma and fortify families: parental resilience, social connections, concrete support in times of need, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence for children.
We also have hosted a Parent Café Training Institute for our partners in D.C., extending the impact of our investment in this valuable tool while building knowledge through the program.