Early Childhood Guidance

The beginning years of a child’s life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school and in life. Research (PDF) shows that brain development is most rapid in the first years of life.

In the last few years, the Office of Early Childhood at the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services released policy statements and early childhood initiatives individually or with other departments.

See this list of Guidance documents and their locations on our website for more information.

  1. Suspension/Expulsion Prevention: this statement assists States and early childhood programs in preventing, reducing and ultimately eliminating expulsions and suspensions in early learning settings. It raises awareness about exclusionary discipline practices in early childhood settings, discusses issues of racial and gender disparities, and sheds light on negative outcomes for children associated with expulsion and suspension in the early years. (Released 12-10-14)
  2. Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive!:  this initiative has the goal of raising awareness of and encouraging healthy child development; promoting universal developmental and behavioral screening for children; ensuring early identification of developmental delays; and supporting families and early childhood programs through tools, guidance and tips. (Released 03-27-14)
  3. Caring for Our Children Basics:  Health and Safety Foundations for Early Care and Education: this work summarizes Federal guidance on basic, minimum health and safety standards across Head Start, child care, and pre-K programs. (Released 06-25-15)
  4. Inclusion: this guidance document sets a vision for States, local educational agencies, schools, and public and private early childhood programs to strengthen and increase the number of inclusive high-quality early childhood programs nationwide. It also assists them in making inclusive high-quality early childhood programs accessible for all young children with disabilities. (Released 09-14-15)
  5. Family Engagement: this guidance document brings together research on effective family engagement and identifies core principles from HHS' and ED's family engagement frameworks. The guidance includes recommendations to States, Local Education Agencies (LEAs), schools and community-based early childhood programs for implementing effective family engagement practices and highlights resources to assist them in their work. (Released 05-05-16)
  6. Dual Language Learners: this guidance document promotes high-quality supports and services for young children who are Dual Language Learners (DLLs) - children who have a home language other than English and are learning two or more languages at the same time, or learning a second language while continuing to develop their first language. The guidance increases awareness about the benefits of bilingualism and the important role of home language development, reviews the research on the strengths and challenges faced by this population, and provides States, tribes and early childhood programs with effective strategies for promoting DLL’s learning and development. (Released 06-02-16)
  7. Career Pathways: this guidance document provides States and early childhood programs with research-based recommendations on developing and implementing career pathways to support the professional learning, practice, and compensation of early childhood educators and program directors. This guidance focuses specifically on the needs of teachers and program directors with the goal of their having a sequence of stackable, portable credentials, combined with the supports needed to advance their individual career progression. (Released 07-21-16)
  8. State Advisory Councils:  this guidance document provides State Advisory Councils (SACs) with guidance on sustaining federal and State investments, and advancing work that supports the coordination of quality, comprehensive systems of early care and education at the State level. (Released 09-21-16)
  9. Monitoring: this guidance document sets a new vision for monitoring, encouraging States to align monitoring policies and procedures across funding streams (i.e. CCDF,CACFP and Head Start) where appropriate rather than monitoring exclusively by funding stream. It recommends efficiencies that can be achieved through coordination, collaboration, cross-training, differential monitoring, data sharing, and greater use of technology. It shifts the current focus of monitoring from one of “compliance only” to “continuous quality improvement." (Released 09-29-16)
  10. Technology Use: this brief helps families and early childhood educators use technology to promote developmentally appropriate, active, engaging, meaningful and socially interactive learning for young children. (Released 10-21-16)
  11. Homelessness: this guidance document provides research and recommendations to local and State early childhood programs and housing providers on ways to intentionally collaborate to provide safe, stable, and nurturing environments for pregnant women and families with young children who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. (Released 10-31-16)
  12. Data: (PDF) this report helps States use existing administrative data from early childhood programs to improve services for young children and families. The statement will cover the importance of linking data collected across programs to better understand the needs of the children and families; supporting continuous program improvement, innovation, and research; integrating data to help answer questions related to program access, participation, quality, and child outcomes. It will also cover how data can impact resource allocation decisions; allow for examination of patterns in service use; identify areas for quality improvement and innovation; and improve the coordination of service delivery across systems at both the state and local levels. (Released 12-2016)
  13. MIECHV & Part C: This guidance document provides recommendations to States, territories, and tribal entities to identify and enhance opportunities for collaboration and coordination between MIECHV and the IDEA Part C Program. (Released 01-05-17)
  14. Health: The purpose of this guidance document is to support States and communities in their efforts to better coordinate, align, and enhance health and early learning systems to promote the healthy development, early learning, and well-being of all children from birth to Kindergarten entry in the United States. (Released 01-05-17)
  15. Supporting Young Children Who Are Affected by Alcohol and Substance Exposure (PDF): The purpose of this U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidance document is to support early childhood programs and tribal communities by providing recommendations that promote the early development of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children, prenatal to age eight, who have been exposed to alcohol or substances during pregnancy, or who are affected by parent or caregiver substance misuse during early childhood. (Released 12-20-16)
  16. Dear Colleague Letter (PDF) Visit disclaimer page  issued jointly by ACF and HRSA's Maternal and Child Health Bureau on May 28, 2020. Letter excerpt: "Across the country, the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of our daily lives. This is a challenging time for many families and communities. For parents and caregivers with limited resources and supports, the pandemic has exacerbated the uncertainty, stress, and isolation for the most vulnerable children and families living in poverty. The intent of this letter is to encourage family support, maternal and child health, and early childhood programs (including Head Start, home visiting, early intervention, and other early care and learning programs) to promote family strengthening and prevention strategies via virtual, electronic, telephonic, or other safe means during the COVID-19 pandemic."

As of February 4, 2021. Additions will be made as needed.

Last Reviewed Date: