Policy Resource

Early Learning Challenge Application has New Language on Social and Emotional Development

Sep 18, 2013

Last week, on August 28, the Administration released the final application for the second Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), a competitive grant program to support states’ efforts to improve early childhood learning and development programs.

This second competition retains the overall purpose and structure of the previous RTT–ELC competition. The priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria are in large part identical to those listed in the FY 2011 applications. However, the Administration did include some language changes that were supported and, in some cases, recommended by ZERO TO THREE that help improve early learning experiences and support systems for infants and toddlers.

The new RTT-ELC presents a great opportunity to encourage states to more systematically address the foundational element of early development and school readiness: social and emotional development or, as we sometimes refer to it, Infant-Early Childhood Mental Health (I-ECMH). Through RTT-ELC, States can adopt concrete strategies that increase the capacity, and therefore improve the overall quality, of early care and learning programs to support and promote positive social and emotional development and to prevent, identify, and refer for treatment children with I-ECMH issues.

Within the selection criteria that states may address to identify and address the health, behavioral, and developmental needs of Children with High Needs to improve school readiness, we recommended adding the following item to the list:

(e) Developing a comprehensive approach to increase the capacity and improve the overall quality of Early Learning and Development Programs to support and address the social and emotional development (including infant-early childhood mental health) of children from birth to age five.

We are very pleased that this proposed language was incorporated because providers and families need to understand how best to support and address the social-emotional development of children from birth to age five. We know that social and emotional development is intertwined with other domains of development and is the basis of school readiness, as young children need to be able to connect with their teachers and peers, exercise self-control, follow directions, and demonstrate eagerness to learn and persistence, in order to master the content that will increasingly become their focus in the elementary years. In early care and education programs, mental health issues in young children often manifest themselves as challenging behaviors, although children who internalize social and emotional issues may go unnoticed. In addition, the mental well-being and therefore the early development of young children is closely tied to the mental health of their close caregivers.

Curious about what a school-ready child looks like? Check out ZERO TO THREE’s infographic to find out.

Finally, we were happy to see that along with the requirement that a State “achieve its ambitious yet achievable targets for increasing the number and percentage of Children with High Needs who are enrolled in Early Learning and Development Programs that are in the top tiers of the State’s Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System” they are also requesting data on the participation of children to be disaggregated by race and ethnicity.

Overall, we are very pleased with the Administration for their leadership in developing and releasing such a comprehensive application that will lead to positive changes and higher quality early learning and development opportunities for children and families throughout our country.

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