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March 2014Vol. 15, No. 3Site Visit: Arkansas Is Building Bridges in Early Childhood

Young children (ages birth to 5) in the custody of the child welfare system need access to high-quality child care if safety, permanency, and well-being are to be achieved. High-quality child care means that the provider is able to meet the unique needs of children in foster care, most of whom have experienced some form of trauma. Using a 17-month Children's Bureau (CB) infrastructure-building grant, the Building Bridges for Better Beginnings project in Arkansas aims to bolster access to care for this child population. The project is bringing together State-level leaders from child welfare and early education agencies and programs, as well as other professionals who are involved with children in foster care. The project is evaluating policies and knowledge about the benefits of early child care and the effects of trauma on young children. 

The leadership team for the project consists of representatives from the following: 

  • The University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) School of Social Work 
  • The Arkansas Division of Children and Families (DCFS) 
  • The Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education (DCCECE)
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) 
  • Project PLAY (a project within the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences) 
  • The UALR Survey Research Center
  • The Midsouth Training Academy 

The CB grant, awarded in fiscal year 2011, is part of the CB's Child Welfare /Early Education Partnerships to Expand Protective Factors for Children with Child Welfare Involvement cluster.

Project staff sent surveys to professionals in child welfare, early childhood, and court-related staff to assess their knowledge of the effects of trauma on young children and the benefits of early childhood education. Focus groups and individual interviews also were conducted. It was discovered that some child welfare staff and early childhood care providers had limited knowledge about the effects of trauma, and some child welfare staff were not fully aware of the benefits of early childhood education. In addition to the findings of the surveys, focus groups, and interviews, the leadership team learned that there was minimal training required for DCFS transporters, who are responsible for transporting children to and from appointments, visitations, and placement moves. However, despite minimal training for transporters, the information they document about children's reactions to these transitions becomes part of DCFS records. The lack of training for these staff members on the ongoing effects of trauma was a concern to the Building Bridges leadership team.

Building Bridges and the Midsouth Training Academy designed trainings specific to DCFS personnel, including transporters, DCCECE, child care providers, and court-related staff. The following topics were addressed in the trainings:

  • The impact of trauma on young children ages 0–5 years
  • The definition of high-quality child care and education
  • The relevance of high-quality child care in mitigating the impact of trauma

Throughout the training, the importance of exploring collaborative opportunities and mutual goals of early childhood, child welfare, and the courts was emphasized. Pre- and posttraining surveys were collected at the training, and the information from the surveys will be used to assess if the training improved the participants' knowledge. The training for transporters, Smooth Moves, is available on the DCFS Intranet, as well as on a DVD. The early childhood training also is available on DVD. Building Bridges also created an informational CD-ROM that contains various resources relevant to early childhood and child welfare. The CD-ROMs are provided to participants at the end of the trainings. Building Bridges plans to provide copies of the training DVDs as well as the resource CD-ROMs to foster parents, child care providers, and other child-serving professionals. At the writing of this article, the project had distributed approximately 2,400 training DVDs and 5,000 of the resource CD-ROMs across the State.

A lack of communication between foster parents, child welfare staff, and child care providers was identified as a barrier to successful child care placement. To address this issue, Building Bridges designed, and DCFS and DCCECE implemented, a Child Welfare Toolkit that included a form that allows for the exchange of information among stakeholders. The Child Welfare Toolkit is included on the resource CD-ROM. Another barrier to the effective provision of high-quality child care that was identified by the project was DCCECE's tracking of early childhood vouchers and child care moves. The leadership team made recommendations for changes in this process in order to make accessing information easier. Implementation of these recommendations is pending.

Building Bridges also decided to use Facebook and Twitter to provide more information to the public about the program. According to project staff, the social media accounts did not receive the response the project had hoped. Project staff plan to maintain the accounts after the grant period ends—which includes a no-cost extension—on August 31, 2013, to continue to share information with the public about the benefits of early childhood education for children served by the child welfare system. The collaboration between the agencies and the trainings also will continue after the grant ends in order to assist with building the capacity of the providers.

For more information on this project, contact E. Christopher Lloyd, L.C.S.W., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Social Work at the UALR School of Social Work,

Building Bridges for Better Beginnings is funded by the Children's Bureau (Award 90CO1067). This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from Children's Bureau site visits.