what needs to be done. Targeted interventions should be framed within larger systems that are robust, appropriately financed, and universal so that individual programs are not isolated.
A discussion of “systems” is not very accessible to policy makers or the public. A better way of talking about systems is needed so that people can more easily understand what it means to support the child, adolescent, and adult over the lifespan.
In the past, reform efforts have tended to focus on programs rather than systems. A better approach is to focus on quality and outcomes rather than programs. This approach is more realistic in terms of the life of a child and developmental issues. It also would apply to everyone, which would make it more palatable to policy makers.
The state of Colorado has taken such an approach by convening all of the individuals and programs involved in the lives of children and condensing their different visions into a single one-page description. Similarly, the state of Pennsylvania has created benchmarks with appropriate outcomes. For example, teacher certification for K-12 education was restructured so that the same criteria apply to everyone.
State policy and federal policy have quite different functions, and in early childhood development state policy is crucial. The state may be the best place for policy change to occur, and leadership in a state is also essential to policy change.
At the federal level, several concerns exist. Open-ended block grants may be less effective than more directive grants that provide guidelines for what is needed. Funding for early childhood development tends to be scattered, inadequate, and incoherent. Given the burden of bureaucratic costs, would the consolidation of scattered efforts within the federal government provide more money for programs? Or would consolidation make it easier for a program to be pruned or eliminated?
Federal initiatives also have resulted in successes, such as the domestic violence initiative during the Clinton administration. In that case, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services worked closely together and made significant progress.
New champions for early childhood development could include philanthropic organizations that are familiar with the science, business leaders, economists, and young entrepreneurs. They could help pave the way for a new overview of the science of early childhood development, which could be called From Neurons to Neighborhoods to Nations.