Strong Neighborhoods Improve Early Childhood Development

High quality childcare plays an important role in the social and cognitive development of young children. However, quality childcare that builds relationships between teachers and families, and connects families with other families and with local resources, can also play a crucial role in developing social capital within a neighborhood.

The Strengthening Families through Early Care and Education Initiative (SFI) began as an program to prevent child abuse and neglect. SFI’s approach is based on existing knowledge about the protective factors—such as parental resilience, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social support in times of need—that help reduce child abuse. SFI set out to equip early childcare centers to foster these protective factors in the families they serve.

SFI helps early child care centers assess how well they promote friendships between families, strengthen parenting skills, respond to warning signs of abuse, and connect families in need to relevant programs and services. SFI then works with centers to identify opportunities for growth in these areas and provides training, resources, and technical assistance to help centers reach their goals.

To our knowledge, SFI’s effect on rates of child abuse has not been formally evaluated. However, the Illinois SFI chapter showed that participation in the program improved collaboration between early childhood education centers and local social services, meaning that centers were better able to connect families to other resources in times of need. Additionally, centers that participated in SFI reported that their teachers and staff had improved relationships with parents and were better able to foster relationships between families as a result of the program.