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Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

BUILDing Strong Foundations

BUILD Initiative Blog



A BUILD blog post by Harriet Dichter

The latest addition to BUILD’s e-book on the Early Learning Challenge, Rising to the Challenge: Building Effective Systems for Young Children and Families, is a prologue entitled Coming of Age: A Review of Federal Early Childhood Policy 2000-2015Joan Lombardi, an energizing and intrepid force in our country’s early childhood movement, wrote the review with co-authors and newly-minted policy researchers Jessica F. Harding, Maia C. Connors and Allison H. Friedman-Krauss.   

The prologue brings to mind a powerful image depicting the angel of history facing the future by looking back. This image—found in Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus-- is at once compelling and evocative of limitation. The prologue provides a review of and lessons to be learned from the march of early childhood federal policy, showing the impact of science and research on public policy; the ways in which state and community actions in early childhood have informed next steps taken by the federal government; and the acceptance of innovation in the form of initiatives such as the Early Learning Challenge. The degree of progress and change evidenced by the authors is a compelling cause for celebration. 

But, as Joan and her colleagues point out, we are limited if we attempt to push towards the future only by learning from the past.  We cannot depend exclusively on where we’ve been to inform our vision and our advocacy for the next gains at the federal level. We have to face forward to prevail tomorrow.  The authors suggest a three-part focus on scale in policy and financing—insisting that all children who are at risk, not just a fraction of them, have access and opportunities; insisting on quality in all policies, programs and services, including adequate compensation and recognition; and insisting on integrating early childhood services so that they work for the people who matter the most—the children and families who use them! 

In addition to illustrating past accomplishments and future possibilities, the prologue provides other reasons to eagerly anticipate reading it. It includes a useful, readable timeline, on page 21. In addition, these motivating reminders are deeply embedded in the prologue.


  1. Every stakeholder has a role in developing and influencing the policy environment and framework—this work is not just for Washington insiders but for everyone around the country.  We are all advocates. 

  2. Breakthroughs happen! For example, the Early Learning Challenge represents an innovation through a systems rather than program approach.

  3. Bipartisanship matters. 

  4. Our perspectives in early childhood evolve—and so the policy and law evolves, too.
  5. Seizing the moment at every turn is essential. The newest federal policy change for early childhood can be found in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), on page 20, and it is our responsibility to take advantage of it.  

  6. Victories should be celebrated.  The work is hard but each step moves us further toward our goals for fully realizing the potential of our young children and our nation.   

As you read the prologue, you, no doubt, will be filled with gratitude to Joan and the advocates, parents, providers, and so many others who are relentless in their efforts, as they look for creative, thoughtful ways to push forward for young children and their families.  

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