Early Childhood-Child Welfare Partnerships

Early Childhood-Child Welfare (ECCW) partnerships envision increased collaboration among child welfare and early childhood systems to support and amplify positive outcomes for children prenatal to eight and their families.

Early Childhood refers to programs that offer early care and education to children, including Head Start Visit disclaimer page  and Child Care programs. These services and supports have the potential to alleviate the effects of early trauma or chronic stress. Explore ACF’s response and projects related to early adversity.

Child Welfare Visit disclaimer page  is a continuum of services designed to ensure that children are safe and that families have the necessary support to care for their children successfully.  Each State or locality has a public child welfare agency responsible for receiving and investigating reports of child abuse and neglect and assessing child and family needs; however, the child welfare system is not a single entity. Public child welfare agencies often collaborate with private child welfare agencies, community-based organizations, and other public agencies to ensure that families receive the services they need, such as supportive child care, parenting classes, in-home family preservation services, mental health services, and substance use disorder treatment.

Building Local Partnerships

There are many examples of jurisdictions where child welfare and early childhood systems have successfully partnered to support young children and their families. The resources below offer a few examples and tools that can be used in communities to develop or strengthen collaboration between the child welfare and early childhood systems, as well as other relevant partners.


Child Welfare-Early Education Partnerships Grants

Between 2011 and 2014, the Children’s Bureau funded 17 grant projects to build capacity among State, local, or Tribal child welfare agencies and early childhood systems. The goal of these grants was to maximize the identification, enrollment, attendance, and supports of infants and young children, ages birth to 5 years, with or at-risk of involvement with the child welfare system, into comprehensive, high-quality early care and education services. Communities built infrastructure to enhance their capacity to deliver multidisciplinary interventions to improve the socio-emotional and behavioral well-being of young children and their families through collaborative service delivery. A variety of resources documenting the implementation and outcomes of these grants have been made available through the Children’s Bureau, its partners, and the grantees themselves:

  • Synthesis of Findings from the 2011 Child Welfare-Early Education Partnerships to Expand Protective Factors for Children with Child Welfare Involvement Report Visit disclaimer page
  • Child Welfare—Early Education Partnerships to Expand Protective Factors for Children With Child Welfare Involvement- Synthesis Report (PDF) Visit disclaimer page
  • Collaborative Relationships and Improved Service Coordination Among Child Welfare and Early Childhood Systems Report Visit disclaimer page

In 2011, the Children’s Bureau (CB) funded 9 Early Childhood-Child Welfare (ECCW) grants to build local community partnerships that maximize enrollment and attendance of infants and young children ages birth to five years, with or at-risk of child welfare involvement, into comprehensive, high quality early care and education and mental health programs. It has been nearly 10 years since the ECCW grants were awarded and the CB, in collaboration with ACF’s Office of Early Childhood Development (ECD), checked in with grantees to see how ECCW projects have changed and developed over the last decade. Beginning in January 2021, ECD and CB hosted conversations with three former ECCW grantees to learn “where are they now.” These conversations included the following former-ECCW grantees: Arizona Superior Court of Maricopa County, Colorado Department of Human Services, and the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families. Throughout these conversations, CB and ECD heard real stories of grantees who have built sustainable community partnerships between high-quality early care and education systems and child welfare. CB and ECD have analyzed these conversations to give the field and update on where the grantees are now and lessons learned from their ECCW journey.

The goal of ECCW was to support a partnership between early childhood and child welfare systems as well as build the infrastructure to support those connections long term. Throughout all three interviews, it became clear that different elements of the early childhood-child welfare partnerships are continuing to flourish and expand through improved referral systems, increased focus on prevention, and the enhancement of organizational supports


Overall Themes from the Conversations:

  • Leadership/staff buy-in at all levels helped the projects to be effective. Grantees stated that “Champions” were important.
  • A clear vision about the goals and impact of the project was essential.
  • Evaluation processes should be in place early and should remain consistent.
  • Normalizing certain topics had great impact (ex. prevention, co-parenting).
  • Systematically ingraining the ideas/values/elements of the project (ex. policy changes) is important in order to create lasting change.
  • One of the biggest impacts was the increased rate at which positive change was able to happen as a result of the project.
  • Collaboration was essential to creating lasting change.
  • All grantees that were interviewed stated that new programs/projects were established as a result of the original grant.  


Other ECCW Research and Reports

ACF and other organizations are committed to supporting the development of ECCW partnerships.  To that end, a variety of resources, including recommendations and research, have been made of available, some of which are included below:

Last Reviewed Date: