Cities, towns, and villages are places of innovation and solution finding. If you want to improve early childhood wellbeing—local leaders are key partners.
The Networks of Opportunity for Child Wellbeing (NOW) Learning Community is a program of Boston Medical Center’s Vital Village. The learning community’s goal is to support local early childhood coalitions and build their capacity to work together with the broader community to improve the wellbeing of our youngest children, ages 0- to 5-years-old.
In March, NLC’s Early Childhood Success team joined Boston Medical Center’s Vital Village Community Engagement Network in Charleston, South Carolina as part of the NOW Learning Community.
With guidance from NLC, participants took a deep dive into how to engage and align with their local municipal leaders. Here are five things local leaders should encourage community organizations to do in order to better engage and align with municipalities.
- Understand community governance structures. When community organizations understand where power and influence lie within their municipality’s governance structures and when they understand where the revenue and resources sit, then community partners are better positioned to work collaboratively with local leaders to build a strong system and web of support for young children and families.
- Know the municipality’s plans and priorities. A municipality’s master plan, school wellness, and health department plan, a mayor’s State of the City address, and such resources provide insight into the work leadership will support. Community organizations should look for connections between goals and the priorities of local leaders.
- Consider all the possibilities. Community organizations should identify how local leadership is currently engaged, then consider what is possible. Questions they can ask include: what is the high-level goal; what do they want to happen; what does working together look like; why is it important?
- Define the ‘win-win.’ Successful engagement and partnerships are built on trust and mutual benefit. What is the community organization willing to give and what does it want to get from working with its city leaders? Community organizations should know how they can support the municipality’s goals and how the municipality can support the community organization’s goals.
- Take action. To learn more about efforts to support young children and families, community organizations should reach out and meet local leadership after making a plan. This is an opportunity for the organization to share and discuss how early childhood connects with what matters most to them and for both the city and the community organization to build on each other’s strengths and expertise.
Local leaders along with local early childhood community-based organizations, professionals and stakeholders are connecting programs, services, and funding to improve policies and practices. They are building a shared vision, seeing increased efficiency and effectiveness, and serving more children, fostering a strong, aligned and equitable early care and education system in which all children may thrive.
Local leaders have a stake in how well children in their cities, towns, and villages are doing. Investing early will mean better academic outcomes, less crime, better health outcomes, a more prepared workforce, increased earnings and less spending on social services long term.
When our children thrive, our communities thrive. For these reasons, more municipal leaders are turning their attention to how local government can support the alignment of equitable early care and education policies and programs.