Connecting All Children to High-Quality Early Care and Education: Promising Strategies From the International Community

Elena Rein
Suzette Chavez

High-quality early care and education (ECE) provides an important foundation for young children’s success in school and in life. Yet, in the United States, fewer than two out of three children between the ages of 3 and 6 are enrolled in center-based ECE programs. Moreover, children from low-income families are much less likely to receive formal early care and education than their counterparts in more affluent families. Federal and state programs attempt to address these discrepancies, but large numbers of children eligible for these programs remain unserved.

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, AIR conducted a scan of efforts to improve access to quality ECE for low-income, minority families in other countries that might inform learning and practice in the U.S. context. Because many other countries have higher participation rates in formal ECE programs than the United States, we expected that such a scan could identify successful strategies that could be applicable in the United States.

The scan found that policies and program models that seem to be associated with high rates of ECE engagement among low-income families in a variety of European countries has identified the following factors as being particularly important:

  • Engaging parents and communities as partners in the ECE system
  • Making ECE part of a continuous birth-to-school system
  • Ensuring adequate and stable funding (making ECE a budget priority)
  • Providing preferential access for high-priority groups to high-quality ECE within the context of universal provision of services

The related brief provides an overview of promising strategies to increase the participation of young children in ECE:

  • Provide strong fiscal support for universal ECE quality and affordability.
  • Connect children to the ECE system early.
  • Improve community connections between ECE systems and the families they serve.
  • Target extra support and out-reach to immigrants and other vulnerable groups.
  • Create and protect a legal entitlement to ECE for all children.