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October 2012Vol. 13, No. 9WI's Early Childhood, Child Welfare Collaboration

Wisconsin's Department of Children and Families (DCF) has long understood the strong connections between child welfare and early childhood education. DCF has initiated several programs to enhance cross-system collaboration and provide developmentally appropriate services to bolster outcomes for young children in care.

In 2005, Wisconsin was one of seven States to implement the Strengthening Families model, a framework that advocates the promotion of protective factors (parental resilience, social connections, parenting knowledge, concrete support, and children's social and emotional development) to prevent child maltreatment. In 2007, Wisconsin was one of three States charged with increasing collaboration between child welfare and early childhood education (Illinois and New Jersey were the other two). Kim Eithun, Program and Policy Analyst in DCF's Division of Safety and Permanence (DSP), said the State worked to integrate Strengthening Families in ways that would give early childhood education more of a voice. "We liked the strengths-based approach of Strengthening Families and the research behind it. Our partners in early childhood education have a wealth of information on children and families involved in our child welfare system, and that's an important voice to integrate into our practice."

Laura Saterfield, Director, Bureau of Quality Improvement at DCF's Division of Early Childhood Education (DECE) added, "Child care providers have an important role in ensuring that children are safe in child care settings, and providers are important resources for families in detecting early signs of stress."

DSP conducted trainings with early childhood educators and cross walked the protective factors with family protective capacities. Families are often assessed for having (or lacking) protective capacities that can reduce the risk to child safety. The protective factors were also integrated into professional development materials for both child welfare professionals and foster parents, and the training materials were later translated into Spanish.

In addition to the implementation of Strengthening Families and collaborative training, DECE implemented the Pyramid Model for Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning Program. The Pyramid Model is an evidence-based training model that aims to prevent challenging behaviors and promote healthy social and emotional development. In 2009, DECE was awarded a technical assistance grant from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) to support Pyramid Model implementation. "Our approach to the model is to have a comprehensive cross-disciplinary professional development program that ensures the social and emotional well-being of infants, toddlers, and their families," said Saterfield. She said the program has been helpful in reducing expulsions. According to CSEFEL research, preschool expulsion rates are three times higher than K–12 expulsion rates, mostly due to child and family behaviors. Saterfield said the Pyramid Model infant, toddler, and parent training modules provide teachers with the proper tools to work with children to prevent expulsion.

Pilot sites were chosen throughout Wisconsin to collaborate with school districts and/or Head Start programs to implement the Wisconsin Pyramid Model. Additionally, DECE has contracted for Supporting Families Together Association/Child Care Resource and Referral agencies to provide training and technical assistance support for 16 trainings to child care providers and other early care and education providers. Completion of training modules was also incorporated into DECE's 40-point child care Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS), YoungStar. If a child care center demonstrates that 50 percent of its lead teachers and its director have completed 24 hours of the Wisconsin Pyramid Model training, that center will earn one point on the QRIS. Additionally, child care centers that have lead teachers and directors complete protective factors and Strengthening Families trainings also can receive one point.

Wisconsin also has implemented an infant mental health consultation program through a Project LAUNCH grant administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). As part of this program, mental health consultation services have been provided to 80 families in LAUNCH-supported programs; mental health consultation with home visitors has been expanded; extensive professional development training for home visitation staff was expanded; Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health (WI-AIM) has offered Pyramid Model training and coaching to 40 child care teachers, their supervisors, and administrators at the Next Door Foundation; and more.

To increase educational stability for children and families involved with child welfare, a pilot project in Milwaukee aims to increase the recruitment and enrollment of eligible children in Head Start and Early Head Start programs. The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare and area Head Start providers signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishing an organized referral process, outreach strategies to foster parents, collaboration between child welfare and Head Start programs during family team meetings and permanency planning, among other policies and procedures. The template MOU is available for other counties interested in instituting similar partnership agreements. 

More information about DCF, DSP, DECE, and other divisions is available on the Department of Children and Families website:

For more information on Wisconsin's implementation of the WI Pyramid Model, visit:

For more information on Strengthening Families, visit:

Special thanks to Kim Eithun, Program and Policy Analyst at the Division of Safety and Permanence (DSP), and Laura Saterfield, Director, Bureau of Quality Improvement at the Division of Early Childhood Education (DECE), for providing information for this article.