Encouraging and supporting the development of the necessary infrastructure to sustain momentum
The Memorial Fund's decision to make systems change a primary strategy in 2010 was based on the belief that supports for early childhood development are only sustainable if they are embedded in the policies and practice of stakeholders at all levels. In a multifaceted initiative such as Discovery, sustainability takes many forms. The network of groups working on behalf of young children now includes communities, state policy and advocacy organizations, state agencies, and a collaborative of funders each contributing toward improving outcomes for young children.
Every piece of this system requires different levels and kinds of support. However, in all of these contexts, sustainability means having the infrastructure needed to sustain an agenda and to work collaboratively to move that agenda forward. Having goals, funding to reach those goals, broad-based support, and strong internal capacity are just as critical to a community collaborative as they are to a policy organization or a funding partnership.
Laying the Groundwork
Throughout Discovery, strategies were employed not only to expand the support for early childhood issues, programs and services, but also to create opportunities for collective allocation of resources. In 2007, the Memorial Fund offered matching funds to the State to expand and support parent leadership and community planning. The State accepted the offer and has continued to provide matching funding in subsequent years. The recognition of the importance of this work has also led to co-funding partnerships. The Memorial Fund has worked with the Office of Early Childhood, the Child Health and Development Institute and the Annie E. Casey Foundation to support communities. The Fund partners with the State Department of Education to co-fund parent leadership through the Parent Trust Fund.
In 2011, the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative (ECFC) came together to support the Office of Early Childhood. This group had been meeting as an information-sharing affinity group prior to formalizing their relationship. Looking beyond 2014, the ECFC is outlining its goals for the coming years, and considering how it can most effectively use joint funding to support aspects of Connecticut’s early childhood system.
The Memorial Fund has also encouraged and supported Discovery communities to focus on their long-term sustainability. The 2012 Discovery application not only asked communities to think and report on sustainability, but also made the maximum level of funding contingent upon securing matching funds within six months. A Peer Exchange & Learning Meeting in 2012 included a presentation on resourcing a community plan and a financing/sustainability capacity session was held in 2013 led by the Finance Project. In 2014, as communities became more focused on how to maintain and sustain their efforts, the Memorial Fund provided limited one-on-one consultation and technical assistance to a group of self-identified communities to examine local sustainability challenges and opportunities.
Though it is impossible to know what the future holds, there are many positive signs that the momentum and support for early childhood issues continues. The Early Childhood Funders Collaborative is looking at new ways to support the development of an early childhood system. Discovery community collaboratives are finding support within their communities to sustain their efforts. The State continues to articulate support and provide funding for early childhood and has established an Office of Early Childhood. These are all signs of a bright future for young children in Connecticut.