Lessons Learned from States’ Efforts to Build a Meaningful Continuum of Supports for Children PN-3 and their Caregivers

We owe children the opportunity and environments they need to thrive and achieve their goals; and for all children, and particularly young children, this means creating policies, systems, and communities that are responsive to the needs of families.

Public agencies have an enormous role to play in promoting the health and well-being of all children and families and preventing their involvement with child welfare. Given the unique needs of children prenatal to three (PN-3) and their families, public agencies that administer supports and resources for young children and their families should focus on developing a shared vision across agencies and in partnership with communities, to meet the needs of pregnant people and children PN-3 and their caregivers. This shared vision should then drive policy development, investments, and collaboration to enhance a holistic support continuum where families are able to access what they need, when they need it, within their communities, and in ways that are affirming and culturally responsive.

In developing and enhancing this support continuum, a crucial component is partnering with community-based organizations and parents to (1) identify strengths and gaps in the current continuum for those who are inadequately and inappropriately served and (2) develop and implement an array of anti-racist strategies that include responsive programs and policies. Only by centering equity in building a support continuum can public agencies truly be responsive to community and family needs and contribute to an early childhood system that provides robust support for families, respecting and valuing families’ assessment of their needs.  

Over the past two years, CSSP engaged with five jurisdictions—the District of Columbia, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Carolina—as they worked to build a robust, responsive, and accessible continuum of supports to meet the needs of families and prevent involvement with child welfare. The jurisdictions each took steps to build teams (PCI teams) focused on creating a shared mission, develop PN-3 plans, and begin to implement these plans. They operationalized key steps toward building a continuum of supports, such as: 

  • Partnering across systems to break down silos as they work to build a meaningful continuum of supports for PN-3 children and families;
  • Establishing a shared vision, clear goals, and a PN-3 plan to guide for state, county, and community partners working to support PN-3 children and their caregivers;
  • Promoting community-driven strategies through meaningful engagement with families and communities to identify gaps in PN-3 services and supports, and develop and implement strategies to address them; and
  • Establishing a space for ongoing collaboration and partnership as they review existing strategies, identify gaps in the continuum, and continue to ensure coordination in initiatives and funding across systems that serve PN-3 children and families. 

Below, we highlight two jurisdictions’ efforts as examples of how to identify strategies to support PN-3 children and families, align PN-3 efforts across the state, and develop and implement PN-3 plans to support young children and families.  

New Mexico’s work establishing a shared vision and clear goals for equity 

To effectively support all children and families in achieving their goals and thriving, equity must be part of a shared vision across all government, non-profit, and private sector partners who are a part of the work. To truly promote a comprehensive, anti-racist continuum, it is critical that all partners—state-, county-, and community-based organizations—establish a shared vision and clear goals for their shared efforts on behalf of children PN-3 and their caregivers. In this way, each system and community partner can clearly identify how their work fits into the broader vision, where there are opportunities for partnership, and where there are gaps that must be filled to achieve the vision and goals. The vision also serves as a mechanism of accountability to ensure that as the work moves forward, it centers equity. 

The PCI team in New Mexico worked to take advantage of the momentum created when Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham revived the Children’s Cabinet, comprised of Secretaries from fourteen state agencies and led by the Governor’s Office Children’s Cabinet Director. The New Mexico team engaged and leveraged the structure and role of the Children’s Cabinet to develop a shared vision and strategies for Cabinet agencies to advance a PN-3 plan, including efforts to promote economic well-being, healthy outcomes for children and families, community investments, access to quality early learning and childcare, and state agency collaboration. Foundational to the PN-3 plan is a shared goal to coordinate systems across the Children’s Cabinet to prevent and reduce child maltreatment and enhance family and child well-being. The Children’s Cabinet Director has created an expectation around accountability for the implementation of PN-3 strategies and a culture of partnership among Cabinet members.   

Nebraska’s work engaging families to identify service gaps and strategies to address them 

To effectively promote well-being and prevent child welfare involvement for young children, families and communities must work in partnership to identify gaps in services and supports and develop and implement strategies to address them. This means recognizing that families and communities are the experts in their needs and establishing a commitment and identifying related actions to meaningfully engage families in the information gathering, gap analysis, decision-making, and implementation processes. Meaningfully engaging families in decision around services means investments will be more responsive to their needs. 

The PCI team in Nebraska focused their efforts on engaging parents to co-create their PN-3 prevention plan alongside community and state partners. The team incorporated the perspectives and expertise of parents who had been impacted by the child welfare system or involved in early childhood services. The team also centered their commitment to advancing racial equity in their plan including by utilizing disaggregated data and integrating the recommendations and feedback provided by impacted families to address the racial and ethnic disparities and disproportionalities in the child welfare system. As an example, the team implemented a structure to ensure parent leaders were providing insight on the Community Response & Family Resource Centers, which provide families with central navigation for supports and services, early childhood programs, and home visitation programs. In Douglas County, the data showed that a disproportionate number of Black children and families were referred by health care providers to child protection. These reports were often unnecessary and harmful to families, so the team, which included parents who had been impacted by child welfare, developed new pathways for families who interact with health care providers to receive support and prevention services and reduce reports to child protection.  

Moving Forward 

Establishing a shared vision and commitment to equity, and engaging families to identify service gaps  based on their needs are two critical steps in developing a continuum of support and services. Public agencies must invest time and resources into these two steps at the beginning of the process to ensure that the continuum of supports is actually able to meet the needs of families with children PN-3, particularly families of color who are inadequately and inappropriately served, in the ways that work best for them.

Building a meaningful continuum of supports for families, one that is responsive to needs of families who are often ignored, poorly served, or harmed by systems, is work that public agencies must do, in partnership with families and communities. The five jurisdictions engaged in this PN-3 efforts have helped us learn key lessons in this work that we hope other communities will draw on as they build their own continuum of supports that are responsive to families’ needs.  


Examples included here are from CSSP’s work funded in partnership with to build an anti-racist continuum of supports and services to promote the health and well-being of children prenatal-to-3 and their families and prevent involvement with child welfare. This work was launched in 2021 with the report, Supporting the First 1,000 Days of A Child’s Life: An Anti-Racist Blueprint for Early Childhood Well-Being and Child Welfare Prevention . Additional insight on how to establish a shared vision and promote community-driven strategies through meaningful engagement with families and communities can be found in a videos on CSSP’s website highlighting the work of the jurisdictions.