prenatal-to-3 webinar crawley

There’s room for state- and county-level municipalities to better coordinate delivery of prenatal-to-3 services and programs, said Franklin County Ohio Commissioner Erica Crawley during a recent NCSL webinar.

Prenatal-to-3 Governance Is More Than Child’s Play

By Melissa Mincic | Jan. 31, 2022 | State Legislatures News | Print

Visit any child care setting or neighborhood park, and you’ll likely see children at play. Group play among toddlers includes a lot of interaction and cooperation, for instance, working together to build a block tower. Parallel play, on the other hand, involves more independence—young children sitting together but playing alone, perhaps stacking blocks by themselves.

Moving from parallel to group play is a developmental milestone. That’s where the skills of building relationships and collaboration begin.

But when it comes to collaboration between different levels of government to coordinate prenatal-to-3 services and programs, the current picture often looks more like parallel play than collaborative play.

“It doesn’t really work all that great, especially between state- and county-level municipalities,” Franklin County Commissioner Erica Crawley said during a recent NCSL webinar, where she and other Ohio state legislators and county officials from both sides of the aisle discussed the challenges and benefits of further aligning their efforts. “There is obviously room for growth and opportunity to collaborate.”

Intergovernmental Collaborative Play

Governing at any level is hard enough, let alone trying to cooperatively align policies and practices across levels of government. Panelists discussed how they overcame challenges related to two prenatal-to-3 issues impacting Ohio: child care and infant mortality.

Crawley stressed the importance of effective communication between state and county government. “We as county leaders should know what the state is planning on doing, so we can plug in holes, fill in the gaps, and that we can all use our resources the best way to support children and families,” she said.

Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R) agreed. “Being able to identify and listen to our local partners in the community on what they need is key.” She also talked about the challenge of being the go-between in leveraging federal and state funding to support community efforts to “make the difference and the impact that’s really needed where it’s needed.”

Being able to identify and listen to our local partners in the community on what they need is key. —Ohio Sen. Stephanie Kunze

In addition to coordinating communication and the allocation of resources, building strong and trustworthy relationships emerged as a key factor in working across the aisle and across levels of government. Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes (D) noted that, early in their collaboration on infant mortality, some local entities did not trust the state’s data mortality rates in their counties, nor did they believe they would receive the funding necessary to sustain programming on their work. Over time, though, this mistrust faded and made way for more effective working relationships.

“Many of these communities have seen some significant gains, but mostly they’ve got a better partner in state government,” she said. “There’s a little bit more trust there, and there’s better collaboration amongst the community partners.”

Warren County Commissioner Shannon Jones looked toward the future, mentioning that the Family First Prevention Services Act can be used “as a lever to bring that federal-state-local collaboration that’s necessary to really identify opportunities for primary prevention.”

Like young children advancing from parallel play to more complex group play, collaborative policymaking across state and local levels of government is evolving to better meet the needs of young children and their families. NCSL, the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities are working together on a prenatal-to-3 initiative to explore how different levels of government are coordinating programs and services and aligning policies to benefit families with infants and toddlers.

Learning from Ohio’s experience can help other states engage in greater intergovernmental collaboration and leverage the opportunities that lie ahead through federal and other funding sources.

“How are we for once and for all going to build a system that thinks about our infants and toddlers through a prevention lens, through an equity lens, that meets the needs of the families in our communities?” Jones said. “That is what’s exciting about what’s coming down the pike.”

Watch the discussion here.

Melissa Mincic is a senior policy specialist in NCSL’s Children and Families Program.

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