Great Start collaboratives, parent coalitions doing more

April 7, 2013

LANSING – More parents and providers of early childhood services think a greater number of Michigan’s young children have gained access to education, child care and health and mental health services over the past two years, and that parents are playing a larger role in making sure those services are available, according to a new report released today by the Early Childhood Investment Corporation as the Month of the Young Child begins.

The statewide “Evaluation of the Great Start Initiative” report found that Great Start Collaboratives and Parent Coalitions in local communities are accomplishing even more than in 2010, when the first evaluation was published. When it comes to making the changes needed to ensure all children are ready for school, which is the main goal of the Great Start Initiative, more respondents report parents now have a greater say in early childhood advocacy, and also find increased access to early childhood services, collaboration between agencies and support for early childhood issues.

The report was prepared by Dr. Pennie Foster-Fishman and the System exChange Evaluation Team at Michigan State University, which also conducted the 2010 study on behalf of the Early Childhood Investment Corporation. Foster-Fishman said the results show that the need for early childhood investment is gaining support in communities across the state as more parents, service providers, businesses and philanthropic groups get involved.

“On every outcome area examined in this evaluation, Great Start Collaboratives and Parent Coalitions are accomplishing far more than in 2010,” Foster-Fishman said. “In ways big and small across the state, young children and their needs are becoming more and more of a priority.”

Great Start Collaboratives bring together parents, community leaders from health and mental health, education, child welfare, child care, philanthropic groups and businesses to increase access to and coordination of early childhood programs. Great Start Parent Coalitions give parents a voice in educating elected officials and community members on the need for early childhood investment, as well as raising awareness of what’s at stake through diaper drives, foster care awareness campaigns and other community events.

The need for more investment in early childhood is clear. One in three Michigan children enters kindergarten with previously unidentified health, social-emotional, developmental or learning problems, all of which can become a life sentence for poor academic achievement and limited opportunities if those problems aren’t addressed. The Great Start Initiative is aimed at making a difference in the first few years of a child’s life – years that are critical to future development – through better health and mental health care, child care and early learning, parenting leadership and family support.Gov. Rick Snyder recognizes the importance of early intervention and wants to spend $130 million more on preschool through Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program over the next two years to get early learning opportunities to a larger number of young children.

The Great Start Initiative report shows that the program is succeeding in getting more providers, parents and community members on board to promote the goal of ensuring that children are ready for school.

“Through hard work and partnering with others interested in giving every child access to the services needed to have a great start in life, the Great Start Collaboratives and Parent Coalitions are making an important and measureable difference,” says Investment Corporation CEO Judy Samelson.

“More children are being helped, and both groups are committed to reaching every child.”

Among the report’s specific findings:

 59 percent of survey respondents think the Great Start Collaboratives and Parent Coalitions have expanded the array of early childhood services available in their communities, compared to 38

percent who thought so in 2010

 55 percent think the two groups have increased access to early childhood services, compared to 36 percent who thought so two years ago

 53 percent think the two groups have increased community support for early childhood issues, compared to 35 percent who thought so two years ago

 64 percent see parents benefiting from participating in one of the two groups, compared to 52 percent who saw that in 2010

The report is based on responses from more than 600 parents, many of them members of a Great Start Parent Coalition or Great Start Collaborative; 1,270 Great Start Collaborative directors or service providers; and 285 community members. Seventy-eight percent of the Parent Coalitions and Great Start Collaboratives statewide participated in the survey.

The report gives the 54 Great Start Collaboratives and Parent Coalitions specific information on how each is making a difference for young children and families in their individual regions, and mentions best practices each can follow to help even more children in the years ahead.

The Early Childhood Investment Corporation plans to raise awareness of early childhood issues throughout April’s Month of the Young Child by holding an online contest for parents to talk about important keys to their children’s development, promoting the importance of high-quality child care and supporting the governor’s plan to expand education and health care to more Michigan children

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