Cities Supporting Parents of Young Children

With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Freddie Mac Foundation, the YEF Institute assisted six cities in creating systems of support for the parents of young children in their communities through the 2005-07 Cities Supporting Parents of Young Children project.

Bryan, Texas; Charleston, S.C.; Enfield, Conn.; Fort Worth, Texas; Lakewood, Ohio; and Longmont, Colo., made concrete progress in four areas: communications campaigns; initiatives to connect families with early childhood resources; programs to engage and empower parents; and efforts to establish or expand family-friendly workplace policies.

These initiatives are helping parents promote their children's healthy development and readiness for school, and balance family, work, school and community responsibilities.

Supporting Parents
Research shows that investing in young children pays off in higher academic achievement and graduation rates, long-term economic benefits, lower crime and more productive working parents. Because parents often lack needed support to foster a successful early developmental experience for their children, municipal leaders are taking action to strengthen parents' capacity.

The project cities focused on four areas:

  • Communications campaigns to educate parents on the importance of early childhood and how to support their children's healthy development;
  • Initiatives to connect families with early childhood resources, such as family resource guides, help lines and community centers;
  • Programs to engage and empower parents, such as parent education classes, home visiting programs and peer support groups; and
  • Efforts to establish or expand family-friendly workplace policies within city government and the private sector.

Bryan, Texas
In Bryan, the city and its community partners organized a Family-Friendly Workplace Practices Conference.

The conference brought together 60 business executives, local officials and city staff, and community stakeholders to recognize innovative local workplace policies and discuss how supporting parents of young children can strengthen employers' ability to attract and retain top talent, reduce turnover and improve productivity.

In addition, the city adjusted its human resources policies, and plans to co-sponsor a second conference in December.

Charleston, S.C.
In Charleston, a coalition of city, United Way and community partners focused on building a system of supports through family, learning and community environments.

The city and its partners launched several programs, including Born to Read, which offers "welcome baby" kits to encourage new parents to read to their babies; Countdown to Kindergarten, which helps parents prepare their four-year-olds for kindergarten; and a Book Club to help families build literacy as a core value in the home.

Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., reached out directly to local media outlets to promote these programs. The city also created a "Born Learning" education campaign with public service announcements and materials on child development and community resources.

Enfield, Conn.
The Town of Enfield partnered with business and civic leaders to form the Key Initiatives to Early Education (KITE) collaboration.

This group launched a public education campaign to promote early childhood success, and the CSP project team engaged a broad range of stakeholders, including local malls and restaurants.

Town leaders also opened a new Parent Resource Center and trained parents to become advocates for their children through a Parent Leadership Training Institute.

Fort Worth, Texas
The Fort Worth Early Childhood Matters initiative sponsored a coordinated communications campaign and opened neighborhood early literacy hubs.

These hubs offer parent education programs, libraries of materials for parents and children, consultation with early childhood specialists and facilitated support groups of parents.

The city also made a concerted effort to engage regulated child care centers and informal family, friend and neighbor caregivers in special training sessions.

Lakewood, Ohio
Lakewood leaders determined that replicating the city's Family Room, which offers parent education, support groups, parent/child activities and other resources, in an underserved neighborhood would help reach more families.

Mayor Thomas J. George and city councilmembers identified specific ways to support the project including helping secure space for the new location. Additionally, the city assessed the needs of parents and tailored programs offered at the new family resource center to meet their needs.

Longmont, Colo.
Longmont Mayor Julia Pirnack convened key partners in the Bright EYES (Early Years Education Stewards) initiative to create and implement a local early childhood strategic plan.

The city also opened new family resource centers, created a database of community resources for families and implemented a Mayor's Book Club that promotes reading among households with four-year-old children.

Lessons Learned
1. Municipal leaders can mobilize community support for parents of young children.
2. Community assessments highlight existing resources and uncover gaps and inefficiencies.
3. Meaningful partnerships are based on a shared vision, trust, and reliability.
4. Parents need clear, consistent messages about the importance of early childhood development and the roles they can play.
5. City officials can maximize current investments by connecting parents to existing resources.
6. Successful parent support initiatives reach out to parents where they work, pray, shop, and play.
7. Initiatives that are inclusive and culturally sensitive yield higher participation and greater impact.
8. Parent leadership enriches a city's efforts to support families with young children.

Key lessons and experiences from the six project cities are featured in the YEF Institute report, Supporting Parents: Promising City Efforts to Help Young Children Succeed.