Cities and United Ways Promoting School Readiness Project

Support by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Cities and United Ways Promoting School Readiness initiative helped the cities of Atlanta, Denver, Des Moines, Iowa, Nashville, Tenn., Providence, R.I., and San Antonio strengthen their efforts to promote school readiness among young children, particularly those in family, friend and neighbor (FFN) care settings.

The YEF Institute and United Way Worldwide helped six cities support family, friend and neighbor (FFN) caregivers so that more young children enter school ready to learn. Project cities gained access to national experts in school readiness, numerous opportunities for peer exchange and site visits to local programs.

Throughout the project, participating city teams developed and implemented a variety of strategies to promote school readiness. Local elected officials used their "bully pulpits" to focus attention on the importance of school readiness, while municipal staff forged partnerships with school districts and community organizations. Several cities leveraged support from business leaders to launch and sustain local early childhood efforts.

Highlights of this project include the development of comprehensive assessments of needs, opportunities and resources for FFN caregivers, as well as the creation and expansion of play and learn groups, which inform caregivers about educational models that help children learn through play.

The Atlanta project team accomplished several objectives during the course of the project, including:

  • Conducting a study to better understand FFN care;
  • Holding training sessions for staff on working with FFN care providers;
  • Partnering with Quality Care for Children - Atlanta's child care resource and referral agency - to host more than 60 play and learn groups at locations such as GED classes, WIC offices and area child care providers; and 
  • Creating an Early Learning Partners group to better integrate and coordinate efforts to improve school readiness.

In addition to increasing the number of play and learn groups, the city partnered with the Center for Working Families to secure $500,000 in child care subsidies for families actively participating in workforce development and job training programs.

In Denver, city and United Way leaders worked to better define and raise awareness about the FFN community as a legitimate source of early care. The project team reached out to Spanish-speaking child care providers, and hosted play and learn groups in two schools.

The Mayor's Office for Education and Children also developed a Resource Facilitator Mentor program, which provides individual support and practical models specifically designed to meet the needs of FFN caregivers providing care for small numbers of children.

Des Moines
Members of the Des Moines project team created a one-stop community resource hub for families at a play and learn site located in a housing complex where a large number of residents are new immigrants. The city is using a mobile play and learn van to raise visibility and expand access to child care resources.

The team also received support from the Des Moines City Council to distribute FFN care resources and information to neighborhood advisory groups.

Nashville municipal leaders and United Way representatives developed a new campaign and branding logo to unite partners throughout the community who are working on early care and education under one identifiable name. More than 30 partner agencies have agreed to participate in RuFuS, which stands for Ready for School.

In Providence, city officials and other community leaders convened an Early Education World Café that brought together business and nonprofit stakeholders to discuss strategies and opportunities for promoting school readiness. This group also organized training and information sessions for FFN care providers.

San Antonio
The City of San Antonio partnered with the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County to bring to the area the First Book program, which provides children from low-income families with new books. The project helped strengthen partnerships between United Way, the city's Department of Community Initiatives and local libraries, which host and administer the First Book program.

Strategies used by the project cities are highlighted in a YEF Institute Municipal Action Guide, Promoting School Readiness by Improving Family, Friend and Neighbor Care.