Innovative Partnerships Essential to Support Early Childhood Success

February 20, 2020 - (4 min read)

Partnerships are key to the success of Tucson’s Family Engagement Network and the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, Florida in improving early childhood outcomes.

While the two organizations differ in how long they’ve been working to promote early childhood success, both organizations name similar key elements to successfully partnering with local government and community organizations.

Formed in 2016, the Family Engagement Network of Tucson, Arizona works to address the continual challenge of the lack of reliable child care for families trying to complete a career and technical education program. The partnership brings together sectors that normally don’t work together – a community college, Arizona’s early childhood councils, a workforce development agency and local non-profit– to link scholarships for high-quality child care with families enrolled in a career and technical education program. Traditionally participants enrolled in a workforce development program are not eligible for many child care subsidies.

The Early Learning Coalition of Orange County (ELCOC) collaborates with a number of organizations to provide families with young children optimal support to ensure their children’s school readiness and lifelong success. The ELCOC and the City of Orlando partnered in 2010 to launch Baby Institute within the Parramore Kidz Zone. ELCOC partners with faculty from the University of Central Florida’s Early Childhood Department to design a ten-week, culturally relevant course designed to help parents of young children build knowledge and skills that result in better parenting and greater school readiness outcomes for children.  Since 2010, 26 cycles of Baby Institute have been completed and several hundred parents have successfully graduated from the program.

Building Partnerships with Shared Commitment

Heather Friedman of First Things First and Robert Clark formerly of the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona named the importance of shared commitment and relationship building among Family Engagement Network members. The partnership persisted after a federal grant application did not get approved. The collaborative continues relationship building and worked through a grant process where a mentor assisted them in narrowing their shared vision and goals, as well as identify their readiness to implement a program.

Similarly, Cindy Jurie of ELCOC named how key elements for the organization’s multiple successful partnerships include relationships of respect between community agencies, city government, and parents in the community. The collaborative spirit between partners has led to additional opportunities with grants and further collaboration.

Sustainability through Shared Governance and Accountability

The Family Engagement Network ensures sustainability by establishing a shared governance and accountability structure to support their shared vision and goals. Early on, members decided that they all have to make decisions as a group. No decisions which impact the other organizations are made without consulting members of the four organizations.

ELCOC partners hold themselves accountable through the use of data to support and evaluate how they are doing.  Pre/posttest information and graduation rates for Baby Institute show the quantitative impact of the program while participants’ narratives provide qualitative evidence that the program is working.

Partnership Growth

The Family Engagement Network has a number of next steps for the future. To ensure accountability, the team plans to continue to use the 90-Day Challenge and other tools introduced through participation as a  Networks of Opportunity for Child Wellbeing (NOW) Learning Community . The Network is pursuing partnerships to evaluate changes in adult graduation and income to measure the effectiveness of receiving a high-quality child care scholarship program, as well as how long children remain in high-quality care after completion of their scholarship.

The ELCOC is working with additional funders to see how Baby Institute can be taken outside of the Parramore community successfully. The partnership is researching how a culturally relevant curriculum might be adapted for different cultural communities such as Orange County’s growing Hispanic community. The collaboration is also increasing plans to ensure the voices of Parramore’s families are a central part of the conversation.

Heather Friedman of First Things First, Robert Clark formerly of the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, and Cindy Jurie of the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County recently shared keys to the success of their innovative partnerships at a session facilitated by NLC’s Early Childhood Success Team at the Networks of Opportunity for Child Wellbeing (NOW) Learning Community Fall 2019 Symposium.

The Early Childhood Success team partners with municipal leaders to take action and successfully navigate the political landscape, utilize regulations and work across multiple government agencies and their community-building communities that work for young children and families. To learn more about NLC’s Early Childhood Success program, visit the website or contact by email at

About the Author:

Vera Feeny is an associate for the Cities Connecting Children to Nature and Early Childhood Success programs in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.