Too many infants and toddlers face adversity of one sort or another. Sophia was born three months early and has special needs as a result. Strong, nurturing relationships, most often with parents, can buffer children from the effects of adverse experiences. But parents aren't the only adults who influence babies' development. Sophia's parents sought the support she needs, including occupational therapists, physical therapists, developmental pediatricians, and a well trained early care and education provider. These experts often have conflicting recommendations and don't have systems to help them coordinate their work. This can be overwhelming, confusing and frustrating for Sophia's parents. Countless families experience similar frustrations when services are not designed to meet their children's complex needs.
ZERO TO THREE's Western Office, in partnership with First 5 LA, has been working on a groundbreaking project to change this - the cross-sector Prenatal Age Through Three Workforce Development Project. Why a cross-sector approach? Many families interact with early care and education, early intervention, child welfare/social services, physical health and mental health services. While these sectors are separate and specialized, children are complex with a range of interrelated interests, strengths and needs requiring a collaborative approach.
This innovative project engaged local and national experts to improve the coordination between and partnerships among the sectors that serve young children and their families. This project broke new ground by creating cross-sector competencies and space for diverse professionals working with young children to simply work together and come out of their silos. It also field tested training, coaching and communities of practice, and is looking to implement new models to better serve expectant parents, young children and their families. Research and science tell us a lot about what children need and what professionals need to serve very young children, now we must act.
While practitioners and policy experts are increasingly united on the need for better cross-sector collaboration, families are waiting for that vision to become a reality. All professionals working with infants, toddlers and their families need to be trained on the unique developmental needs to provide comprehensive and coordinated services. Now we need investments to support projects that work and make a difference so our children can learn, grow, and succeed. As the President's proposal outlines, the investments need to start early. Parents, professionals or policy makers – we ALL have to be part of the conversation, part of the investment and part of the solution. Because as Frederick Douglass said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."