CSSP defines an early childhood system as an aligned set of multi-sector services, supports, programs, and policies that—in partnership with families—focuses on improving population outcomes for young children and families. At the heart of early childhood system building is developing key protective and promotive factors that support families and enable children to thrive. 

We employ a variety of approaches to support this goal, including tools, resources, and frameworks that have been developed over our 40+ year history and tested rigorously throughout communities. This New Neighborhood Hub features many of those resources, including tools focused on the impact, innovation, and progress of communities making change on behalf of young children and their families. Featuring the Building Blocks for an Early Learning Community (developed in partnership with EC-LINC communities), these resources and opportunities are designed to foster learning and innovation across communities. 

Local Early Childhood System Building Communities

Our Goal

Across the nation, people are working to reinforce a sense of community, support young children and families, and work to build equity within communities. Early childhood system building organizations and their partners are making dramatic progress toward creating the conditions where all children and their families can thrive.

How We Do It

CSSP employs a variety of strategies designed to meet this goal. Below is an overview of several of our key initiatives and what makes them so critical to our work of creating a nation in which all children, youth, and families can thrive.

For the past several years, CSSP has been studying community early childhood system-building initiatives and convening EC-LINC (Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities), a network of communities engaged in these efforts. Through this work, CSSP is learning about how local communities can bring together the full range of policies, programs, strategies, and opportunities that are needed to help families raise young children who are healthy, safe, and ready to succeed in school and throughout life.

If you have resources you’d like to see featured on The New Neighborhood, please email annika.list@cssp.org.


CSSP partners with a growing number of robust, cross-sector early childhood system building organizations by supporting EC-LINC (Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities)to learn  together about what it takes for early childhood systems to address population level outcomes at scale. There are a variety of funding streams, programs, and approaches—from multiple sectors—flowing into communities with the expectation that an integrated early childhood system be established that supports families and improves results for young children in communities across the country. EC-LINC brings together these innovative local communities with state and local leaders to intentionally share the knowledge, learning, resources, and strategies to accelerate the development of effective, integrated, local early childhood systems across the country.

Parent Leadership

The Parent Leader Network (PLN) provides a space for parents in EC-LINC communities to collaborate with and support each other, represent the parent perspective, and advocate for parent voice and leadership in early childhood systems. Harnessing the power of parents and giving them the space and support to share their expertise, wisdom, and knowledge ensures that we keep children, youth, and families at the center of our work. This group created the Manifesto for Race Equity and Parent Leadership in Early Childhood, a guide for early childhood agencies and systems to address inequities and racism by giving parents a voice and opportunity to be engaged and lead at all levels of change.

Advancing Equity

Achieving the outcomes we want for all young children requires an intentional focus on equity. That means understanding the current conditions in your community that contribute to disparities among different populations, and how those conditions affect families. A well-functioning early childhood system allows leaders and stakeholders to look across the programs and services that make up the system to assess and improve how well these are meeting the needs of the community’s entire population of young children and their families. 

To learn about CSSP’s internal equity journey, read our resource Moving Forward Together: CSSP’s Journey to Center Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. This paper explores our journey towards becoming an anti-racist, equity-centered organization; a journey that we are still on today. Additionally, our Anti-Racist Intersectional Frame is an action-oriented frame that critiques society’s structures and its treatment of people and communities while providing a guiding approach for how to work towards a more just and equitable society. 

Using Data

Early childhood systems function best when data is consistently used to drive change—to keep stakeholders focused on the outcomes of their efforts, improve progress toward those desired outcomes and increase effectiveness of various programs and of the systems itself. A process of continuous quality improvement is a hallmark of an early learning community.

The North Star for early childhood systems is to build robust, results-oriented, local early childhood systems that ensure:

  • All pregnant women and young children are healthy
  • All children are ready to succeed in school
  • All children live in safe, stable, and nurturing families and communities

The EC Systems Performance Assessment Toolkit includes guidance and tools to assess how well a local early childhood system is working to improve the reach of early childhood services, promote coordination among those services, promote coordination among those services, increase the community’s commitment to early childhood, and advance equity and parent engagement.

Strengthening Families

The five Strengthening Families Protective Factors(parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, and social and emotional competence of children) offer a framework for local, statewide, and national changes at the systems, policy, and practice level—locally, statewide, and nationally.


Community Leadership, Commitment, and Public Will to Make Early Childhood a Priority

Key Aspects

  • Local leaders work together across systems with a focus on early childhood. 
  • The community invests in young children and families. 
  • Community members support and understand the importance of early childhood health, learning and well-being. 
  • A rich network of informal supports is available for all families. 
  • Community resources for children and families are well-known, accessible and easy to use.

Quality Services that Work for All Young Children and their Families

Key Aspects

  • Families have access to high-quality, basic services that proactively promote and support health, learning and family strengths. 
  • All children receive routine screening, identification, referral and linkage for additional risks and needs. 
  • Children and families at risk and those with identified needs have timely access to more intensive services. 
  • Families and parents are actively engaged as partners. 
  • Supports are in place for service providers. 
  • Leaders use data to drive change


Neighborhoods Where Families Can Thrive

Key Aspects

  • The built environment promotes safety and allows families to access basic services in their neighborhoods and beyond. 
  • Economic and employment opportunities are available to all. 
  • Residents feel a sense of belonging and hope within their neighborhoods and connection to the broader community.

Policies That Support and Are Responsive to Families

Key Aspects

  • Policies that govern child and family services are equitable and responsive. 
  • Workplace and other policies support families in raising children. 
  • Land use and community development policies are designed with consideration for how they affect young children and families. 
  • Alliance for Early Success
    The Alliance for Early Success works with early childhood policy advocates at the state level to ensure that every child, birth through eight, has an equal opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed.
  • BUILD Initiative
    The BUILD Initiative is a national organization that partners with state leaders to promote equitable, high-quality child- and family-serving systems that result in young children thriving and learning.
  • Children’s Funding Project
    Children’s Funding Project is a non-profit social impact organization that helps communities and states expand equitable opportunities for children and youth through strategic public financing.
  • Pritzker NCIT
    Comprised of more than 2500 local, state and national organizations representing business leaders, pediatricians, care and assistance providers, state and local officials, parents, advocates and researchers, NCIT is focused on educating the public and raising awareness about the urgency of supporting pregnant people and families with children under three.
  • Start Early
    Start Early advances quality early learning for families with children, before birth through their earliest years, to help close the opportunity gap. Their Early Childhood Connector is an online community and knowledge sharing resource for anyone working to strengthen programs and policies that support children prenatal to eight and their families and caregivers