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Early Childhood Initiative:
Theory of Change

Updated Content (April 2009)

Creating a Theory of Change (TOC) for the Early Childhood Initiative

In mid-2005, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation funded the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds to establish the Early Initiative (ECI), with the goal of equipping CTFs to increase implementation of effective child abuse/family strengthening strategies by deeply embedding the Strengthening Families Protective Factor (SF/PF) Framework throughout all systems that touch the live of young children and their families. The first three years of the Early Childhood Initiative concluded in May of 2008. The 23 states that have participated in the ECI over the past three years have seized upon the unique opportunities for this work within their own emerging early childhood systems. The results have been diverse across states and opportunities to embed the SF/PF Framework have engaged an array of early childhood partners that may not have traditionally been engaged in CAN prevention strategies.

Focus emerging from complexity

readThe complexity of addressing multiple challenges at multiple national, state and local levels has caused the ECI Learning Community to consider how next three years of the Early Childhood Initiative can be informed by the emerging lessons of the past three years. Some of the ideas gained in the study of the phenomenon of emergence (or complexity theory) may lend some perspective to this challenge. In the 1999 inaugural issue of the journal, Emergence, Jeffrey Goldstein defines emergence as “the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems.”

The emerging intersection of the CAN prevention field and the early care and education field shares some of the common characteristics that Goldstein describes for the phenomenon of emergence:

  • Radical Novelty (features not previously observed in the system) - ECI states have exhibited novel and radical approaches as they have sought to embed the SF/PF Framework into state systems.
  • Coherence or correlation (integrated wholes will maintain themselves over some period of time) – changes embedded into states’ systems have maintained themselves through strengthened partnerships across systems that were created as a result of the ECI.
  • A Global or macro level (some property of wholeness) – Strategies that may have initially seemed fragmented during the process of the first three years of the ECI are emerging as unified efforts that are impacting children and families at the areas of policy, practice and parent partnerships. The key to assure continued progress will be to advance strategies that exhibit a global or macro level of application.
  • It is the product of a dynamical process (it evolves) – ECI states have collaborated through networking calls, national gatherings, and interaction on multiple levels to stimulate the growth of ideas and strategies necessary to address current challenges. There is an ever-deepening partnership that continues to evolve and gather around the macro level issues that must be addressed in order to strengthen families (i.e., high quality early care and education settings, effective provider-parent partnerships, professional development that supports the understanding of effective CAN prevention/family strengthening strategies, etc.).

Moving To The Next Level

In December 2008, ECI/LC stakeholders finished the process of developing a Theory of Change (TOC) for the Early Childhood Initiative. The TOC continues to be a living and evolving document which articulates shared goals and understanding within the ECI/LC, assists in the the development of action plans and evaluation plans, and is designed to be useful to the entire Learning Community for decision-making and program improvement as planning for the next phase of ECI begins.

General Information about Theory of Change