Public health for communities and children

The long-term health of communities and children are deeply connected.

City Health recently released its inaugural report rating cities on their ‘healthiness.’ We're pleased to note that high quality early childhood programs were included as an indicator of health. City Health explains it here:

“High-quality pre-K improves children’s school readiness and success: they enter school better prepared and are less likely to repeat a grade or be referred to special education. Long-term benefits include higher high-school graduation rates, lower rates of crime and teen pregnancy, higher lifetime earnings, and better health outcomes.”

Philadelphia scored a silver medal overall, and in high quality early childhood education programs, meeting all four critical benchmarks (related to teacher training, class size and ratio, site visits) and 8 of 10 overall benchmarks, but scoring low on enrollment.

There are an increasing number of research reports indicating that high quality early childhood programs can have a positive impact on health from the start, and on a range of life outcomes as children grow, including academic success, social-emotional well-being, and long-term health. A recent presentation by Bartik concludes that significant long-term outcomes can be shown for large-scale pre-K programs if they are high quality or specifically targeted to disadvantaged populations of children.

At the same time, early childhood education alone is not enough. A recent study shows that city living can make asthma worse for children, for example. Children’s success in kindergarten has been linked to food security, and long-term life outcomes can be influenced by factors ranging from family stability, and segregation, to specific parent engagement indicators. For example, Penn State researchers report that:

  • Promoting positive parenting practices and parent-child relationships can reduce behavioral problems.
  • Promoting home learning activities and effective teaching strategies can foster early learning.
  • Strengthening parent-teacher partnerships can boost academic and social-emotional skill development.
  • Emphasizing a child's physical health can aid healthy overall development.

Resilience can also be a factor for children challenged by ongoing toxic stress, which may be exacerbated by living in poverty, experiencing health issues, or being hungry. Strategies to build resilience are still being clarified, but it is clear that positive relationships with caring adults, along with opportunities for creative play, exercise, and mindfulness, can help. High quality preschool can be a factor in providing those opportunities.

Joan Lombardi, from The Center for the Study of Social Policy recently discussed a growing movement to “involve the whole community in efforts to help children and families learn and thrive.” This is based on a range of concepts, including: 

  • The ecological systems model that recognizes that children grow up in families, which are influenced by the communities around them and in turn by policies at all levels.
  • The movement towards collective impact, rather than focusing on impact from a single program.
  • The use of population-based data to drive towards results. 

Lombardi suggest a range of steps communities can take to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of their efforts, including planning across sectors; developing strong connections and linkages among groups, and from families through the community; and developing integrated systems and dashboards to track the success of those efforts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched the 500 Cities Project in 2015, a useful source for current information on city indicators, “to provide city- and census tract-level small area estimates for chronic disease risk factors, health outcomes, and clinical preventive service use for the largest 500 cities in the United States.” The data for the largest cities in every state is included, to ensure all states are represented. 

Some data specifically related to Philadelphia changes over time are available here. The Pew Charitable Trusts has also released some case studies and infographics about how community development and health are related.

Last week NIEER described this report about cities offering universal preschool: “Child Care and Early Education Research Connections this week shared a Resource List providing a comprehensive list of city universal preschool initiative evaluations and research in the Research Connections collection. To count as universal, a city's program must aim to eventually provide universal access to publicly-funded preschool for all 4-year-olds using at least some city funds, even if it does not currently achieve universal access.”

The takeaway? It might take the whole city plus some high quality early childhood education to give every child the opportunity to succeed. Many elements that contribute to success are already in place in Philadelphia, and in other cities, which can provide examples of how to proceed.

Supporting Young Children of Undocumented Immigrant Parents in Early Care and Education


Recent actions of the federal government have created significant anxiety and fear among immigrant communities in Philadelphia; many immigrants are worried about how new law enforcement and deportation priorities will affect their day-to-day lives.1,2 Research demonstrates that the stress, anxiety, and fear undocumented immigrant parents experience in their day-to-day lives can have direct and indirect negative effects on their children, whether or not children are themselves undocumented. A recent article by Child Trends provides a succinct overview of the impact new deportation policies may have on children in the U.S. 

Click here to read more.
Click here to view the flyer.


Supporting Young Children Experiencing Homelessness in Pennsylvania

We are excited to announce the release of new resources detailing policies and strategies for supporting young children experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania!

Best Practices in Early Care and Education for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness, written as part of the William Penn Foundation-funded Building Early Links for Learning (BELL) project, documents existing approaches and opportunities for serving young children experiencing homelessness in early education programs. The paper details the scope and distribution of young child homelessness in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, and includes actionable recommendations for local and state agencies, as well as for organizations serving the homeless, and for early care and education programs as they work with young children experiencing homelessness and their families. 

A companion piece provides supplementary data on early child homelessness, including a series of maps, charts, and graphs that help to contextualize where Pennsylvania stands in relation to other states in the U.S. View the infographic here. 

Our hope is that these pieces will serve to inform ongoing early care and education systems reform, including:

• Instituting policies to ensure that young children experiencing homelessness are prioritized for service in PHLpreK and other publicly supported early care and education programs, and that they receive comprehensive, high-quality services that address their needs;

• Enhancing collaboration between homeless-serving organizations and early care and education programs, including increased awareness of young children’s developmental needs in the processes and physical features of homeless-serving organizations; and more familiarity with supportive housing systems among early care and education staff; and

• Appropriate case management and other dual-generation services that assist the parents of young children experiencing homelessness with obtaining stable housing and employment, and support their ongoing health and educational needs. 

For additional information on the intersection of homelessness and early care and education, we encourage you to visit the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY)’s website and explore their resources page

The Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) has just released a brief on the impact of homelessness on young children as well.


Building Early Links for Learning (BELL) Forum: First Year Findings and Next Steps

By Sara Shaw

Sara Shaw is a doctoral candidate in the Human Development and Family Studies Department at the University of Delaware, and visiting scholar at People's Emergency Center in Philadelphia, PA.

About half of children in shelters for families experiencing homelessness are under six years old. The Building Early Links for Learning (BELL) project brings together homeless advocates, early childhood educators, and developmental scientists to support these young children. Born out of a collaboration between PHMC and local universities, this two-year William Penn Foundation-funded initiative seeks to (1) increase the developmental friendliness of shelter programs and (2) increase the enrollment of young children experiencing homelessness in high quality early learning programs in Philadelphia. 

The BELL initiative recently celebrated its first year with a forum held on March 16th at the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. More than 80 people from across the region, including federal partners and local service providers, registered to learn more about the first-year findings from the project. 

Attendees heard about successes from BELL investigators. Presenters discussed several ways to track and use data on early education enrollment of young children in shelter, as well as data on the quality of shelter environments for young children. Findings highlighted improvements made to increase the developmental friendliness of the city’s emergency and transitional housing programs. 


Before and after photo at Red Shield Family Residence where the BELL team funded a private breastfeeding space.

Project partners with The Cloudburst Group also shared findings from focus groups with early education providers, housing providers, and parents experiencing homelessness. These activities resulted in practice recommendations on how to best address families’ needs and access to high quality early education options.

Amanda Atkinson, with PHMC, shared findings from a landscape analysis of successful approaches to increasing access to high quality early learning programs for young children in shelter, including funding, service delivery model, and program components. Amanda’s presentation highlighted examples of successful models from across the country, as well as practice implications for Philadelphia. She also discussed how the Philadelphia Head Start Partnership worked with the BELL team to identify potential locations for implementing a locally designed Head Start program option for shelter residents. 

Marsha Basloe, senior administrator with the Administration for Children and Families, also attended, commenting that the BELL is leading the nation in addressing the needs of homeless children.  Marsha noted that the BELL project has the potential to be a model for how to best support the early learning needs of young children experiencing homelessness. 

The BELL project looks forward to starting its second year of implementation and incorporating these findings into a set of best practices to support the enrollment of young children in shelter into high quality early learning programs.

For more information about the Building Early Links for Learning project, and to see slides from the forum, please visit the People’s Emergency Center website.