COMMENTARY: Big ideas for early childhood being born right here in S.C. (Greenville Online)

By Linda Brees and Jamie Moon, GUEST COLUMNISTS

The nation’s fastest growing and most groundbreaking early childhood organization is based in Greenville — and after five years it’s having a major impact for children and families in South Carolina.

The Institute for Child Success, or ICS, is helping shape the dialogue across sectors such as education, health and tax policy for how best to secure the future for America’s children.

With support from our founding organizations, the Children’s Hospital of the Greenville Health System and the United Way of Greenville County, ICS is involved in all kinds of projects aimed at serving children and families better.

This is a major step for South Carolina, a state we love to call home but that often lags most of the country in measures of education and children’s health. But we’re finally making some progress.

The most visible project ICS has helped accomplish for our state: convening a group of leaders to build a $30 million expansion of the proven Nurse-Family Partnership program, which provides nurses to work with low-income, first-time parents in their homes in all but a handful of South Carolina’s 46 counties. By using Pay for Success, a public-private financing strategy, Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration is working with other state leaders to help many vulnerable families without breaking the bank.

This year, our state reached its highest national ranking on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2016 KIDS COUNT 50-state report card on children’s well-being, up one spot to 41st overall. We need to be ranked higher, of course, but teen births in our state have dropped substantially, high school dropout rates have improved markedly, and more children now have health insurance.

There’s still much to do. South Carolina ranked 43rd in KIDS COUNT for education, a majority of our young children still aren’t in preschool, and child poverty is rising.

In that light, projects that we’re helping to lead, both in the Upstate and across the United States, are continuing to make a difference for children and families:

  • ICS’s new report, Head Start in the South, examines this federal program for children across the region and guides states and localities on how to improve services for children and families.
  • The ICS Leadership for America’s Young Children program is developing a new generation of thoughtful, cross-sector leaders. In October, we gathered with 30 leaders in Charleston for the insightful Race, Justice and the Young Child leadership seminar.
  • ICS is working with Spartanburg leaders to help the city become one of the best places to raise a child, despite high poverty in some neighborhoods. We’re working with the Spartanburg Northside Initiative to develop an early learning center that will help to improve the health and preparation for school for hundreds of children.
  • We published research showing the economic impact of pre-K programs in Los Angeles County as major program cuts loomed.
  • Back in the summer, we convened the third annual national conference of states and local governments using Pay for Success to expand early childhood services.
  • We hosted the first Early Learning Summit in Austin, Texas, joining 13,000 others at SXSWedu Conference & Festival last year.
  • ICS will host a first-of-its-kind national ideas festival and conference on early childhood issues, called Small Talks, next year in Washington, D.C. We’ll hold many local events in conjunction with this innovative national event.
  • We published a report with partner organizations examining the most recent national data on Hispanic child population growth and its implications.

We also recently convened nearly 300 leaders in Charlotte for the fourth annual ICS Early Childhood Research Symposium. A federal health official at the conference called the Carolinas “the hub of innovation” nationally for early childhood work.

We couldn’t agree more. And we’re just getting started.

Linda Brees is the board chair and a co-founder, and Jamie Moon is the president and CEO, of the Institute for Child Success, a national nonprofit organization based in Greenville. Visit it online at www.instituteforchildsuccess.org.

Jamie Moon is the president and CEO of the Institute for Child Success, a national nonprofit organization based in Greenville.