At ICS Research Symposium, Carolinas Called The Center Of ‘Transformation’ In Early Childhood

The significance of the moment for ICS and its partners was not lost on the roughly 230 people gathered in Charlotte this week for the 4th annual ICS Early Childhood Research Symposium.

After touring the expanding early childhood services in Spartanburg, S.C., one day earlier and learning about South Carolina’s $30 million expansion of the Nurse-Family Partnership for needy families across the state, David Willis, a leading federal official in children’s care, declared that the region is beginning to set the pace for the rest of the nation.

“The Carolinas are the hotbed for transformation in early childhood and home visiting,” said Willis, the director of home visiting and early childhood services for the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, told the ICS conference.

That was only one highlight from the first day of the research symposium.

On a panel moderated by ICS Senior Fellow Janice Gruendel (here’s a link to her papers for ICS:, experts offered their guidance on issues in early childhood research—and their agreement on place-based strategies in early childhood as the most promising.

As communities start committing themselves to make change, change does happen,” Willis said. Place-based strategies and the two-generation approach to improving early childhood (working with both children and parents) could help address “challenges that heretofore have seemed immutable,” he added.

On the same panel, Jason Gilliland of Western University in London, Ontario, presented on his participatory/collaborative research approach on improving children’s health. In Canada, 91 percent of children do not get enough exercise. He cited a study examining whether giving all children free passes to recreation centers and activities can remove barriers for children’s health and fitness.

Panel Discussion on Place-based EC
A panel discusses place-based early childhood strategies at ICS’s 4th annual research symposium.

Charles Bruner, recently retired from the Child and Family Policy Center in Iowa, discussed his examinations of the role of resources and capacity in early childhood development. Among other things, he found that low-resource people want better for their kids—even before they wish for jobs or safety. Social entrepreneur Aaron Bean of the company Asemio discussed his work to help communities develop data systems to measure and improve early childhood outcomes. “We need new infrastructures to carry out these new innovations,” he said.

William Powers and Sara Peters of the Sorenson Impact Center in Utah presented on their work to help the Westminster, Colo., schools, near Denver, begin a massive expansion of high-quality pre-K classes. The project is using innovative Pay for Success financing. (More details on that project are in this article:

Duke University School of Nursing Dean Marion Broome gave a keynote address on the need for researchers—and advocates—to listen to children. She noted that until the 1970s, much of the medical community dismissed children’s pain with serious illnesses, believing that youngsters would forget or even not feel such pain in a catastrophic way. Then they started listening to children more. Children often know what’s working in their schooling, their health and their environment, and some researchers are reluctant to include their views.

Chris Bishop, who leads the Nurse-Family Partnership’s (NFP) expansion across South Carolina—aided by Pay for Success financing organized in part by ICS—joined NFP research director Bill Thorland to discuss how such rigorous evaluations can be designed and their lessons learned. (More on that project here:

Mariel Kyger and Melissa Barnhart of LAUP presented their research on how high-quality preschool can improve children’s early-academic outcomes in kindergarten: Their paper won the early-career research award from ICS at the symposium.

Jamie Moon presents at reception
ICS President Jamie Moon speaks at the Champions for Children awards reception on the evening of Oct. 13.

ICS’s own Keller Anne Ruble discussed emerging research on how an expansion of earned-income tax credits for low-income families may lead to better outcomes for young children. (More on that topic here:

Two leaders in the early childhood field were named this year’s ICS Champions for Children during an awards reception. One winner was the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., which has launched the decade-long, $30 million-plus Great Expectations early childhood program in Forsyth County. This year’s second winner was longtime California early childhood advocate Celia C. Ayala, the longtime CEO of the nonprofit organization LAUP, which provides training and support for many preschools across Los Angeles County, raising the quality and impact of those programs.

And Joe Waters, ICS’s executive vice president, announced that the research symposium and ICS’s annual conference on using Pay for Success in early childhood programs will be combined into a major conference called “SmallTalks.” The first SmallTalks conference will be held in fall 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Small Talks
ICS’s new ‘SmallTalks’ conference, to be held in fall 2017, was unveiled.

“Small Talks will continue to have a strong emphasis on research and a commitment to outcomes-based, evidence-driven policy solutions. But we’ll also begin to incorporate artists and writers into our conversation,” Waters said. “We’ll make space for new voices and experts from beyond the early childhood field to help all of us determine how he first five years of life relate to the broader challenges for our country and world.
“It’s going to take all of us in our communities and our society to build a greater understanding of one another, and to support a more just society for children and families,” Waters continued. “We think Small Talks will be big—not only for the early childhood field, but also for our communities and our nation.”
-Alan Richard


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