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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration
Maternal and Child Health

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Early Childhood Programs

Early Childhood Programs support the vision of a comprehensive, high-quality early childhood system that promotes maternal, infant, and early childhood health, safety, and development, as well as strong parent-child relationships. The Early Childhood programs support federal, state, and local agencies, through collaborative efforts, to effect changes that will improve the health and well-being of young children and their families by addressing healthy child development within the framework of life course development and a socio-ecological perspective.

Life course development points to broad social, economic, and environmental factors as contributors to poor and favorable health and development outcomes for children, as well as to persistent inequalities in the health and well-being of children and families. The socio-ecological framework emphasizes that children develop within families, families exist within a community, and the community is surrounded by the larger society. These systems interact with and influence each other to either decrease or increase risk factors or protective factors that affect a range of health and social outcomes.


Early Childhood Programs contribute resources and services to an early childhood system that promotes the health and well-being for pregnant women, mothers and children through age eight and their families in several ways:  

  • The National Healthy Child Care Cooperative Agreement Program promotes health development and protection from harm of children in early care and education programs through:
    • The development and maintenance of quality health and safety standards (Caring for Our Children),
    • National training and infrastructure for child care health consultants,
    • Increased access to medical homes and health insurance, and
    • Engagement of health professionals in early childhood programs and systems
  • The infrastructure building of state early childhood comprehensive systems (ECCS) assists with the coordination and integration of essential early childhood resources within states; and
  • Through evidence-based home visiting programs, the Maternal , Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program helps to assure the effective coordination and delivery of critical health, development, early learning, and child abuse prevention services for children and families who reside in at-risk communities;  
  • Dissemination of consumer resources for improving maternal and child health at home, in child care settings and in health professionals’ practices


Healthy Child Care America Program works towards goals of quality assurance, child care health consultant infrastructure building and access to medical homes/insurance for children in early care and education programs. In partnership with national experts (in particular the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association), voluntary national health and safety standards  for child care programs—commonly referred to as Caring for Our Children (CFOC) have been developed and continuously improved with new scientific evidence and best practice. States use these standards as guidelines to improve their child care state regulations. Caregivers and families use them to evaluate their programs and make improvements to protect children from harm and improve their healthy development and be ready to enter school.

National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education at University of Colorado Denver coordinates the continual improvement of CFOC and has developed consumer friendly resources such as specific nutrition, physical activity and screen time standards to help set the path for the prevention of childhood obesity in our youngest children. 

National Training Institute for Child Care Health Consultants at University of North Carolina has developed quality training for health professionals on the specifics of child care health consultation – over 400 consultants have been trained and provide direct consultative services that improve health practices and policies in early childhood programs throughout the nation. 

Child Care and Health Partnership   at American Academy of Pediatrics, in collaboration with health professionals, has improved children’s health and safety in child care settings in such ways as better and earlier developmental screening, increased awareness and access to a medical home and access to health insurance. 

Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Program (ECCS) has successfully built infrastructure within states that support families and communities in their development of children that are healthy and ready to learn at school entry. ECCS has a broader scope than most other systems development efforts in that it focuses on five different early childhood areas of need: early care and education, access to health insurance and medical homes, social emotional health and development-mental health, family support and parenting education. 

ECCS grantees has contributed extensively to the development of  a system of social and emotional supports for children; ECCS State teams have played an important role in identifying opportunities for collaboration and partnering with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Project Launch and the new Governor appointed State Advisory Councils. 

ECCS has helped to leverage and coordinate state early childhood funding by filling program and funding gaps, and encouraging other agencies to commit resources as a partner in projects that required the blending of funds. ECCS strengthens system building at the state as well as the community level. These systems now provide the framework for supporting the implementation of the new and promising Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV), the newest Early Childhood program, was by the Affordable Care Act. MIECHV provides an opportunity for collaboration and partnership at the Federal, State and community levels to improve health and development outcomes for at-risk children through evidence-based home visiting programs.  This program is designed to

  • strengthen and improve the programs and activities carried out under Title V
  • improve coordination of services for at-risk communities and 
  • identify and provide comprehensive services to improve outcomes for families who reside in at-risk communities.

The legislation reserves the majority of funding for one or more evidence-based home visiting models in states. In addition, the legislation supports continued innovation by allowing up to 25 percent of funding to support promising approaches that do not yet qualify as evidence-based models.