After observing students in action, I noticed how resourceful everyone was. The children did not rely on plastic toys to bring them entertainment. They used natural materials such as stumps, sticks, leaves, dirt, etc. to design their own learning space for that day. Without the confines of walls and ceilings, students’ minds and bodies were able to explore their surroundings.
Five years ago, leaders associated with the United Way of Greenville County and the Children’s Hospital of the Greenville Health System came together to address a seemingly pervasive dilemma: that despite decades of private and public investment and the good work of many direct service organizations, South Carolina continued to rank near the bottom in many national rankings of child health, education, and well-being.
In response to this challenge, these leaders created the Institute for Child Success (ICS). Headquartered in Greenville, South Carolina, ICS is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and policy organization dedicated to the success of all young children.
ICS’s founders were intentional in creating an organization that would have a significant, lasting, and systemic impact. They imagined an organization that would put forward informed policy proposals and produce cutting-edge research. They envisioned an organization that would embrace what neuroscientists and economists have been telling us for years – that the best returns for society come from smart investments directed toward the first five years of life.
Five years later, and thanks to the support of its many collaborators, ICS can now point to many accomplishments benefiting the lives of children and families. 2,380 children in South Carolina’s poorest 64 school districts now have the opportunity to attend publicly funded four-year-old kindergarten (4K). Legislation mandating the development and use of a common definition of “school readiness” was passed in 2014. A new state budget allocation makes the Reach Out and Read (ROR) early literacy program available to an additional 40,000 children across the state. Many cite these and other legislative developments as a direct result of ICS’s framing of the issues and work with the General Assembly.
We have enjoyed similar success at the federal level. Together with the national Home Visiting Coalition and the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, ICS worked to secure congressional reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. MIECHV is credited with reducing in the number of pre-term births and increasing kindergarten readiness. We are also pleased to have worked with partners across the country to include important Pay for Success (PFS) and evidence-based provisions in federal legislation impacting children and families.
In terms of research, ICS has been equally prolific. In late 2015, ICS hosted its third annual Early Childhood Research Symposium. This annual gathering brings together hundreds of cross-sector leaders from around the nation to inform the creation of high-quality early childhood systems. Over the past five years, ICS has also pursued a rigorous research agenda, resulting in an impressive array of issue briefs, white papers, policy papers, and monographs. Dealing with topics ranging from the impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) on child achievement to how brain science should inform public policy, these ICS publications are designed to inform decision making at both local and national levels.
As pleased as we are with the progress made, ICS is commemorating its five-year anniversary by looking forward. It was a challenging task for ICS’s founders to truly understand what the organization would become and the extent of the void ICS would attempt to fill. In the past five years, it has become clear that the ICS approach, and the type of work and expertise it requires, is in demand across the nation. Therefore the Board of Directors recently honed the ICS mission and vision to better reflect what we are already working toward, and to guide the organization in the years to come.
Moving forward, ICS will pursue is mission to ensure the success of young children in four primary ways:
- Proposing smart public policies, grounded in research.
- Advising governments, nonprofits, foundations, and other stakeholders on strategies to improve outcomes.
- Sharing knowledge, convening stakeholders, embracing solutions, and accelerating impact.
- Fostering the next generation of leaders.
Although ICS has articulated a “new” mission, the spirit of this multifaceted approach already permeates our work. For instance, as a result of ICS efforts in South Carolina, the Corporation for National and Community Service Social Innovation Fund (SIF) provided ICS with a multi-year federal grant in late 2014 to provide early childhood technical assistance to jurisdictions across the United States. Today, in Sonoma County, California, ICS is exploring using PFS to expand Nurse-Family Partnership. In Washington State, ICS is working with stakeholders to assess the feasibility of PFS to expand a portfolio of home visiting models proven to have positive health and education outcomes for children. Similar projects are underway in Connecticut and in Spartanburg, SC. The success of each of these engagements relies on ICS’s specialized expertise in convening stakeholders, advising service providers and governments, and developing new leaders.
The small group that met in 2010 to create ICS may have been uncertain about just exactly how ICS would evolve to fulfill its mission and add value. However, in 2016, those same leaders are unanimous in their conviction that the systemic, policy and research approach they imagined has created measurable impact. Today, millions of children and families are the beneficiaries of their vision. Looking forward five years into the future, we expect that this initial vision, sharpened by experience and collaboration with our many partners, will continue to ensure the success of an even greater number of young children. This will lay the groundwork for a more prosperous economy, a more engaged citizenry and a brighter future for our nation.