November 7, 2023 | EC-LINC Webpage

Building knowledge and sharing resources by and for local early childhood systems builders.

Advancing Early Childhood Systems Through Legal Problem-Solving

In the complex landscape of early childhood systems, families often encounter barriers to essential resources vital for children's well-being. These barriers can hinder access to critical elements like housing, food, employment, and income. While families have legal rights to health-promoting benefits and services, the gap between these rights and practical access remains a challenge. However, organizations such as MLPB are pioneering legal problem-solving approaches to bridge this divide and foster flourishing early childhood systems.

To expand the perinatal and early childhood workforces’ toolkit to include legal resources and foster cross-sector collaborations, MLPB facilitated a Learning Community of stakeholders from Smart from the Start in Boston, The Rhode Island Department of Health Office of Family Visiting, and First 5 Orange County. Over 18 months, the Learning Community sought to systematically incorporate families' legal environments into early childhood care planning. As part of the collaborative effort, parents and organizations from each area completed a survey about their priorities. The sites collectively landed on three priorities: education, family law, and immigration. These were themes used for a pilot training series with the communities and in the resulting handbook, Legal Problem-Solving and Flourishing: A Handbook for Perinatal and Early Childhood System Builders.

The handbook offers a comprehensive guide for program administrators, frontline workers, parent leaders, and others to equip them with tools to integrate legal problem-solving into their care strategies, from activating legal resources within existing systems to fostering collaborations for advancing civil rights. The handbook emphasizes recurring themes: the significance of language access rights and the pivotal role of trust-building. While not a step-by-step legal manual, this resource supports stakeholders dedicated to enhancing the lives of children and families who want to explore integrating legal problem solving as an element of care.

After the conclusion of the workgroup last year, First 5 Orange County decided to expand and continue their local cohort to focus on how to locally implement the information in the toolkit. After seeing how important this topic is for families and the impact it can have, the group is now working on turning the three sections of education, family law, and immigration into an online certification portal on legal issues for parents and professionals. The free certification, available in multiple languages representative of the population in Orange County, will be rolling out in the next six months following testing with Orange County parents and providers. Andrew Montejo, a staff member with First 5 Orange County and member of the cohort, shared, “We saw the impact of these three items and how it is important for families to know this knowledge. Not even just for themselves, but for people in their community.”

Embracing legal problem-solving is not only essential but also practical. The perinatal and early childhood workforces, who build trust-based relationships with families, are well-equipped to incorporate legal problem-solving strategies given the right support. MLPB, First 5 Orange County, and their partners are trailblazing a path that demonstrates the potential of legal problem-solving to reshape early childhood systems. 

New from CSSP

New Neighborhood Podcast Season 3

We’re excited to bring you the third season of The New Neighborhood, CSSP’s podcast about innovative work making communities around the country better places to raise children. Check out the trailer and the first three episodes of Season 3 now. Keep an eye out for new episodes dropping soon, wherever you get your podcasts.

Child Poverty Doubled Last Year–We Owe Children So Much More

The share of children living in poverty increased dramatically in 2022, according to recently released Census Bureau data. Our blog post is a response to this data, which is directly attributable to the choices that policymakers have made to roll back critical economic security programs that were expanded during the pandemic, such as the Expanded Child Tax Credit and, as the data make clear, are necessary at all times.

Tell Us About Your Work

We want to hear from you! If there are resources you'd like to see featured on the New Neighborhood, our resource hub for local early childhood system building communities, please fill out this short Google form. We're looking to write about examples of innovative early childhood approaches happening across the country as well as feature existing resources.

Featured Resources for System Building:

Child Care Cliff

As the American Rescue Plan stabilization funding ended on September 30, a predicted 3.2 million children were at risk of losing their spots in child care. This economic analysis report from The Century Foundation lays out the devastating effects of this “child care cliff,” which include 70,000 child care programs likely to close, the loss of hundreds of thousands of child care workforce jobs, and further implications for parents and businesses. To further breakdown this crisis, see this creative graphic, “The Child Care Cliff, A Cautionary Tale."

BUILD Initiative recently released Family Child Care in Crisis: Providers Discuss What Comes after Pandemic Funding Ends that shares the perspectives of child care providers and what’s next with the pandemic funding coming to an end. The blog features providers from New York City and North Carolina discussing how the stabilization grants helped them stay afloat and the foreboding impact of losing the funding.

Other Resources for Early Childhood Systems Builders

  • For professionals interested in aligning cross-sector early childhood work: This episode of the Medicaid Leadership Exchange podcast by Center for Health Care Strategies explores how a cross-agency team in Alaska embarked on a journey mapping process to better understand the experiences of pregnant people impacted by substance use disorder to improve maternal health and reduce infant out-of-home placement.

  • For early learning system builders: The Zaentz Navigator is an interactive tool to help policymakers and leaders learn how states and cities are working to structure, expand, and advance early education and care through filtering by location and strategy type.

EC-LINC is a network of partners with a shared goal—to support families and improve results for young children in communities across the country.

There is much to be learned about what it takes for early childhood systems to address population level outcomes at scale. There are a variety of funding streams, programs, and approaches—from multiple sectors—flowing into communities with the expectation that an integrated early childhood system be established.

Yet there is no central resource that brings together innovative local communities with state and national leaders to intentionally collect existing and new knowledge, develop resources, and test new ideas. That’s why the Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities Initiative is here.

Media Contact

Jessica Pika, Communications Director
Joshua Perrin, Communications Manager
Center for the Study of Social Policy
1575 Eye Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20005

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