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Early Childhood Initiative (ECI)

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In 1994, as part of the Early Childhood Initiative (ECI), the Heinz Endowments organised the business, corporate, agency, and foundation sectors in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States in an effort to extend diverse, high-quality early care and education programmes and options to unserved children in high-risk neighbourhoods. The overarching mission of ECI is to foster preschool and school success for children living in poverty, whose typical retention and special education placement rates in kindergarten have ranged between 18% and 40%. The primary long-term objective is to function as a catalyst for the formulation of an interagency partnership system of early care and education and support services for all high-risk children and families. The hallmark of the programme is community-driven change.
Communication Strategies: 

A consortium of business, community, and foundation leaders designed the goals, approach, and expected outcomes of ECI. This design was based on these 7 core features, designed to reach children at developmental risk: (1) longitudinal interventions starting in infancy and monitored through functional benchmarks; (2) intensive, comprehensive, and individualised programmes and supports; (3) integral parent participation; (4) high programme quality and frequent monitoring; (5) direct child interventions; (6) community-directed programmes and integrated services; and (7) follow-through of child and family supports and programme evaluation into the primary grades.


Each ECI community leadership council made independent decisions about the type of programme option it would pursue based on the assistance of existing and new providers in their local area. Thus, wide diversity in programme options is apparent within and across the 8 ECI neighbourhoods of Braddock, Highlands, Hill, Homewood, Steel Valley, South Side, Wilkinsburg, Sto-Rox, and East Liberty. However, the following overarching programmatic features are common to all ECI programmes: ongoing consultation to improve programme quality; weekly mentoring and monitoring regarding curricula, equipment, physical settings, and educational practices; diverse forms of parent participation; early care and education routines guided by ongoing child assessments and feedback; and community-based leadership to marshal creative interagency supports for children and families in ECI programme settings.


To cite 2 specific examples of ECI initiatives, Braddock's 4 Kids ECI involved a community leadership council forging a relationship between Woodland Hills School District, Head Start, and various formal and informal resources in the community (e.g., churches, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development community councils, and local hospital networks) to link services for children and families. In Wilkinsburg, Hosanna House, a broad community service centre, incorporated family support programmes as central features of their early care and education programmes. In fact, these communities have led efforts to incorporate the School Readiness Group, a nonprofit early childhood consortium, in order to harness the influence of cross-community partners to advocate for government, foundation, and agency funding.

Development Issues: 

Early Childhood Development, Education.

Key Points: 

Organisers say that national research over 30 years demonstrates that young children of poverty who do not have the opportunity to attend structured preschool programmes evidence progressive declines in their developmental capabilities. At entrance into school, they are typically 1.5 years behind their more advantaged peers.

Source: 

"Alternative Designs for Community-Based Research: Pittsburgh's Early Childhood Initiative", by Stephen Bagnato, Robert Grom, and Leon Haynes, Harvard Family Research Project's The Evaluation Exchange, Volume IX, No. 3, Fall 2003. Source of the first 2 years of data: Bagnato, SJ, Suen, HK, Brickley, D, Smith-Jones, J, Dettore, E (2002). "Child developmental impact of Pittsburgh's Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) in high-risk communities: First-phase authentic evaluation research. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 17(4), 559-80; "The Mismeasure of Young Children: The Authentic Assessment Alternative" (2004), by Neisworth, JT, Bagnato, SJ. Infants and Young Children, 17(3), pp. 198-212; and emails from Stephen Bagnato to The Communication Initiative on November 25 2003 and March 21 2006.

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