Early Childhood Systems Working Group

The Early Childhood Systems Working Group (ECSWG) is an independent, voluntary collaboration, and is not a program or initiative of the BUILD Initiative. BUILD serves as a member of the ECSWG and has donated this web space as in-kind support to the group.

The three ovals revised from the original 4Overview

The Early Childhood Systems Working Group (ECSWG) is a volunteer group of national leaders engaged in technical assistance to state policymakers in the development of comprehensive early childhood systems. The group came together in 2005 to consider how they and their respective organizations could work together more effectively in supporting state system building efforts.

Many state leaders are engaged in efforts to increase quality, alignment, and efficiency among the system of systems serving young children and their families. The ECSWG seeks to help states implement systems that can provide an integrated continuum of policies, services and programs across early learning and development, health, and family leadership and support, so that children and families thrive. Since 2006, this group of expert organizations and individuals has met voluntarily on an as-needed basis to engage in a peer learning community and develop resources for the early childhood field.

Developing a Framework for a Comprehensive Early Childhood System

The Evolution of “The Ovals”

One of the first projects launched by the ECSWG was the development of an early childhood systems framework (often referred to as “the ovals”) in 2006, which depicts the intersection of critical early childhood system components, encircled by the core elements that support a comprehensive early childhood system. The goal of the framework is to help states develop and implement an integrated system of policies, services and programs that helps leaders and stakeholders work more effectively together toward common goals for children.

A brief by Charlie Bruner entitled A Framework for State Leadership and Action in Building the Components of an Early Childhood System offers an overview of each system component (oval) according to its evidence base, status of development, exemplary state actions in building the component, and finally, a set of exemplary state actions in linking each component with other components.

Over time, the ECSWG has adapted this framework to most accurately reflect the state of the early childhood field, and the best practices in system building. In 2011, ECSWG members agreed to modify the framework from four components to three, reflecting new thinking and the realities of current state systems.

The updated framework also includes an underlying set of values and principles that can serve as critical guideposts for state leaders to use, both in making system-building decisions and assessing the extent to which the state system is doing what it intends for children and families. Finally, the framework includes an updated set of core elements – renamed “functions” – that support the implementation of a comprehensive early childhood system.

  • A brief and PowerPoint (in PDF format) providing a rationale for the revision, and explain key changes from the original ovals can be found here.

A Systems Planning Tool provides a guide for states in using the framework to inform their day-to-day decision-making. Originally developed to support state leaders in their applications for the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT/ELC) grant, the original tool was evised to reflect a broader systems frame.

Since their initial creation, the ECSWG framework and tools have been widely used and adapted by national and state stakeholders to understand, communicate, and support policy improvements for states’ systems. Variations on the “ovals,” “elements,” and now “functions” concepts may be found in state planning and policy documents around the country. They have proved to be a powerful tool to convey a vision of an early childhood system.

ECSWG Resources