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Activating Early Childhood Resources in Marginalized Communities: A Framework Re-Imagined

Develop a framework to address disparities in access to early childhood resources in marginalized communities

Photo of Cristina NYU
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Our plans have evolved significantly over the course of this process. Our background is in community advocacy and research, but this process allowed us to identify our own assumptions and learn new ways of writing both from each other and from the mentor about how to communicate our ideas to the innovators' community. Prior to the prize, our team had been brainstorming ideas to generate a proposal. When we saw this call for the innovation prize we were excited to challenge ourselves to think outside of the box. Our initial proposed idea evolved from a research-focused outcome to a tool-based outcome. We were challenged to find ways of communicating our work and make it usable for different platforms. This idea was illuminated through our work with our mentor. During our initial call with our mentor and subsequent feedback sessions, we discovered that our process and approach to community-based work is innovative. Unlike many research-community based partnerships, we realized that our work is different in two ways: 1) our process will allow us to develop a usable framework for other communities and 2) we want to make visible the invisible (parent voices and perspectives). Our team met weekly to discuss and reflect on our process. We engaged in many rich conversations to further shape our ideas and what makes our idea innovative and scalable. Our team brings a diverse lens with various levels of expertise. Challenging ourselves to position our work within this prize was an innovation in itself.

Name or Organization

The Child & Family Policy Center at NYU Steinhardt (NYU-CFPC) and the Hunts Point Alliance for Children (HPAC). NYU-CFPC works to bring state-of-the field knowledge about how to promote children's healthy development and school success to the forefront of policy-making and program design. The mission of the HPAC is to expand the hopes and potential of Hunts Point children-nurturing neighborhood youth along their path to college or career by unifying our alliance of community organizations.


The HPAC serves the Hunts Point community, an isolated peninsula in the South Bronx. NYU is in NYC.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • University

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Now is the time to leverage the community to address equitable distribution, inclusion, and greater participation rates of families in high-poverty marginalized communities. In 2019 the NYC Dept. of Education will extend its oversight to include ages 0-4. The insights from this innovative partnership have the potential to impact city policy and be leveraged into a larger, longitudinal research grant that could provide empirical evidence on the efficacy of new approaches for community and neighborhood development and guide future policy.

Select an Innovation Target

  • System design: Solutions that target changing larger systems.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

We will identify early childhood opportunities for poor communities of New York, starting with Hunts Point. For children ages 0-4 growing up in poverty, access to high-quality and culturally-responsive resources is an important intervention to address the school readiness gap. Increasing the availability and type of high-quality early childhood programs will provide families and children the basic building blocks for a lifetime of learning. Building from previous work, our team aims to do the following: 1. Develop a replicable framework for leveraging resources for poor communities; this may include essential questions, innovative guidance on community-based assessments and incorporating local voices, identifying resources and practices that support poor communities, and developing advocacy groups to support and sustain disenfranchised communities. 2. Provide recommendations for local investments in early childhood in poor communities. This may include identifying new service delivery options to support families, strategies for family outreach to increase enrollment, document families decisions for ECE care, suggestions for re-imagining neighborhood resources for poor communities. As a means of addressing this gap, we take a participatory approach in which the voices of families in poverty are brought to the forefront, creating new patterns of care that address their specific needs and fears and creates capacity in existing community providers to reach the neediest children.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Children in Hunts Point utilize available ECE services at a lower rate than other children throughout NYC. Children arrive at school unprepared and are at a greater risk for school failure. We aim to explore a) families’ perceptions of ECE; b) what policy recommendations would lead to higher enrollment in ECE services; c) how these changes can be operationalized and leveraged by the community to ensure ECE programs are targeting poor families needs appropriately to increase ECE usage.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Our goal is to explore why children and families in poor communities, such as Hunts Point, do not utilize early childhood services at the same rate as their middle-class peers, leading to long-term inequalities across academic, health, and economic domains. Many times policymakers make decisions about poor communities without asking them what they need. In Hunts Point, we are seeing evidence of this. ECE programs and services exist within the community, however, data suggests an underutilization. We also have data showing that children in Hunts Point and similar poor communities arrive at school unprepared. In order to address the question of ECE utilization, we must first learn what the community perceives as important and necessary during the early years. We will take a strengths-based approach and use the knowledge and competencies from the community to address systems change to engage families and communities during the critical window of development. Phase I. Exploration. In order to leverage a community, we must first understand the community's needs and perceptions. We will conduct a needs assessment of the Hunts Point community. Both NYU researchers and HPAC community members will work together and go door to door to targeted locations (e.g. barber shop, library, health center) to conduct brief interviews with families and community stakeholders to learn more about their needs related to early childhood services. An important piece of this work will be to target families that are not using ECE services to learn more about their perceptions and needs. By listening to families we aim to identify three big ideas: 1) What types of early care and education services exist within the community and are used by families; 2) What types of programs or services do families desire; and 3) What are the barriers or challenges families face when accessing early care and education services? Phase II. Identification. We will use the information gathered from community interviewing to inform our approach to examining NYC data sets. We will identify public and/or restricted data from NYC agencies to explore where children ages 0-4 that reside in the 10474 zip code receive care. For example, we may learn that children in the Hunts Point area are receiving care in other zip codes. Through the Administration for Children's Services which currently oversees birth to three care, non-identifying data for subsidized kin-care and enrollment of out of district early care and education settings could be collected and analyzed for patterns. We envision that this information, layered on what we know about existing care settings, would help identify the trajectories of care usage for families in the Hunts Point area. Phase III. Analysis & Application. From the research, we aim to analyze and apply the information and make it accessible to various stakeholders. The Hunts Point Early Childhood Action Group, comprised of community providers and family members will play an important role to spread awareness of the importance of early care and education to local families. This group along with HPAC will leverage the collective knowledge and form broader programmatic partnerships and gain understanding to how current city initiatives, such as extending publically funded ECE services to three-year-olds and expanding the NYC Dept. of Education's role in ECE. Phase IV. Framework Re-Imagined A guiding replicable framework will be developed to serve as a tool for other communities serving poor families and children. We will take what we have found and create a resource that will contribute to the understanding of how children in poor communities access early care and education services, and how changes to city policy impact vulnerable children - or whether patterns of inequity persist and why. Emerging recommendations would be presented to policymakers to shift the design of the delivery of ECE services to correct ongoing inequitable outcomes. Our final framework authored in partnership with HPAC, NYU, and the Hunts Point families would then be disseminated to other poor communities within NYC, and across the US. Our framework will have usable knowledge so that other communities can use this tool to turn-key the information to leverage the necessary resources to strengthen their communities and improve the lives of children and families residing there.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

1. The beneficiaries are the children 0-4 living in Hunts Point, currently only half of which are participating in ECE programming. Through this collaboration of experts in early childhood with community partners and families, these children will have increased opportunities to engage in quality ECE programming that is responsive to their family’s needs. The benefits to the children and families also have long-term impact. Research demonstrates that children enrolled in quality early childhood settings have greater economic participation and increased mental and physical health outcomes throughout their lives. For individual caregivers, early education settings can decrease social isolation and foster crucial connections with others. Finally, over time, the benefits of appropriate early care and education can uplift the community through appropriate development from birth through adulthood, leading to secure and productive adulthoods.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Imagine providing families with resources that meet their needs? What if local policies such as early childhood service expansion, were thoughtfully designed and executed with the community in mind? What if families’ voices could be heard? Poor children start school behind their peers. The research is clear that rich early experiences are essential for supporting overall development. Too many children in marginalized communities are not connected to the increasing number of early childhood resources, even in cities like New York that have enacted publically funded pre-k and highly subsidized child-care programs. Specifically, only 50.1% of children in Hunts Point are enrolled in ECE, compared to over 83% in affluent neighborhood of Tribecca (Citizens’ Committee for Children, 2016). Often times, resources are created with good intention, however, there is a cultural mismatch in what the community needs and what local policies believe a community needs. Our idea will dig deeply into the reasons why there might be a “cultural gap” by engaging families, community providers, and city policymakers and then use this research to influence how NYC implements future ECE programs to meet goals of equity: ensure those that start behind are given supplemental resources to begin kindergarten on equal footing. This work will create a ripple effect that will provide knowledge for ways to push different levers within a community so that the all systems around the child are strengthened.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

The initial piloting of our idea will be in a high-poverty community where low-income children reside. Our work will focus on understanding and designing a replicable framework to leverage community resources within the Hunts Point community, part of New York City’s Bronx Community District 2. The district has a child poverty rate of 47% and 26% of community families have incomes below $15,000 with a median income of $24,400 (Citizens’ Committee for Children, 2016). Our work would create systemic pathways for these children to connect with high-quality early childhood experiences, with long-term impacts of increased school success, high school graduation, and career opportunities. Further, the framework can be utilized in other low-income neighborhoods throughout New York City, and other cities and states to empower poor communities to advocate for the early care and education experiences all children need and deserve. We value that each community context is unique, however, our work aims to provide a guiding framework that can be used by other communities, specifically communities that serve low-income children, to support healthy development.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Disrupting narratives of what low-income communities need or what outsiders perceive as "lacking" is a central goal of our work. At each level, we aim to disrupt the dominant narrative that may shape and design neighborhood developments/revitalizations efforts and access to resources. 1. Family choice and voice matters: All families’ choices are logical given systems that they are within. It’s the system design that may have created the limitations, and artificial and inequitable boundaries for how and where young children should receive care. To adequately and equitably understand the family choice, we need to target both the visible groups (families that are already participating in ECE programming in the area) and invisible groups (families that are not participating in any type of programming). What makes this component innovative is that we are documenting and valuing the family voice. We are not making assumptions about what the family needs or should be doing. We hope to learn from them to identify their needs and work alongside families to ensure that their children arrive at school with a strong foundation. This process will also disrupt narratives that typically blame poor parents for not being engaged during the early years. Their view is crucial for identifying systems and ECE programs that meet poor families needs. 2. Partnership matters: While researchers are often considered the "experts" who direct and guide the work, and make decisions about the implications of any findings, our partnership disrupts a top-down approach to systems change. Instead, HPAC and NYU will approach our innovation collaboratively honoring all voices to co-construct knowledge that can be useful and meaningful to poor communities. What is unique to our partnership is that HPAC knows how to engage local members including families, community district leaders, and other service providers. NYU has experience bringing key stakeholders together to generate and disseminate ideas to support and promote healthy development for all children, especially poor children. Too many children born into poverty do not have experiences to prepare them for kindergarten or the social-emotional demands of our 21st-century education and career pathways. Our partnership addresses this gap by including the voices of parents in poverty, including new immigrant mothers, central to the identification and creation of new patterns of care that address their specific needs and fears, creates capacity in existing community providers to reach the neediest children, and seeds long-term research into how to ensure all children in New York have true access to educational building blocks. We will take a bottom-up approach, grounded in the community needs to learn more about what services are needed to support poor communities. We will work together and commit to bring all voices to the table. We will use our expertise to leverage resources to develop and sustain a university-community-based organization partnership to serve as a model for other communities. 3. Usable knowledge: While every poor community has its unique barriers, our tool will attempt to synthesize a process for understanding families decisionmaking around early care and education and a framework to advocate for options that meet communities individualized needs. We know that other tools exist such as the Build Initiative or Family Engagement frameworks. Our framework will be innovative because it honors a true human-centered design and will take a ground-up approach. Often times research is generated and is disseminated to our own research community. While this is important, we will also take an innovative approach to how we disseminate our findings. A guiding framework that can be used by different stakeholders such as parents, community groups, schools, health centers to name a few, challenges us to generate usable knowledge in innovative ways that is created from community voice and perspective. 4. Focus on racial and ethnic minorities: low-income children typically include children of color. Our process is innovative by placing communities that typically are not heard and disenfranchised central to this work. Poor communities are targets for interventions and programmatic efforts to remedy the long-term impacts of growing up poor. We aim to take a radical approach by disrupting the narratives of poor communities as being deficient and focus on their strengths, needs, and rights. As the demographics across the US continue to shift, minorities are now becoming the new non-majority (Hernandez, 2013). This project is innovative, timely, and has the power to transform our understanding of early care and development for racial and ethnic minority poor communities. Let's challenge our understanding and push boundaries in novel ways to provide a platform to elevate and activate the necessary levers to ensure poor children and their communities are not left behind.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

In New York City, all 4-year-old children ostensibly have access to free public pre-k, and NYC is currently in the process of expanding their efforts to provide publically funded pre-k education to all 3-year-olds. In the Bronx, 21% (n= 25,355) of children under the age of 6 live in deep poverty; adoption of our resulting framework by community-based organizations in partnership with the city planners in our borough alone could impact access to educational experiences for thousands of children. If used more broadly, it has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands, as five million children under the age of 3 come from low-income homes across the US, and in each of those communities are individuals seeking the resources for better early care and education opportunities for their children.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

In academic, professional, and governmental circles NYU-CFPC is regarded as an impeccable source of research-based knowledge, training, and evaluation expertise in early childhood development. Under the leadership of the Center, co-directed by Drs. LaRue Allen and Jennifer Astuto, their team has pioneered several models of research-practice-policy collaborations in areas of early intervention, home visiting, technical assistance, professional development trainings and quality improvement in low-income urban contexts. In 2014-2015, Dr. Allen was Chair of the Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8: Deepening and Broadening the Foundation for Success, which was convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC). In 2015, the Committee released a report exploring our current knowledge base of child development and the unrealized implications for policies and practices surrounding the early care and education workforce, making recommendations for improvement. She also served as a facilitator on the New York Board of Regents Early Childhood Blue Ribbon Committee which developed recommendations to help frame the Board’s discussion on how to improve outcomes for New York’s youngest learners and how to ensure they are ready for kindergarten and beyond. As recognized leaders in childhood development, we believe that the results would also be considered seriously by those in the New York City policy arena and it is feasible would be incorporated in future initiatives to scale access to quality care for New Yorkers 0-4. In Hunts Point, HPAC has deep community relationships with local organizations and families. HPAC’s work in early childhood grew out of community assessment completed in 2007 which demonstrated a lack of early care and education services and led to a partnership with the New York Center for Child Development. Based on initial work, NYCCD was able to ensure that the Hunts Point community was one of two focused neighborhoods for a federal five-year grant, Project LAUNCH. Simultaneously, HPAC dedicated its storefront location to the creation of a Community Lending Library and associated early childhood programming. Given this depth of work with young families and the community ties with our program team, HPAC can mobilize through the community and create authentic engagement.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Both NYU-CFPC and HPAC are non-profit organizations with track records of receiving external funding to support and sustain their mission. As recognized leaders in both community engagement and support and research and policy work, our partnership will allow for our framework to reach a broad audience. Co-directors from the NYU-CFPC authored a paper proposing a system of care approach to early care and education to ensure that all children have access to high-quality health, intervention and prevention, and educational services that promote the development of a healthy community (Astuto & Allen, 2009). Building from this expertise, NYU-CFPC and HPAC propose developing a framework which will allow us to identify the appropriate research design to then develop a full-scale proposal for a longitudinal, four-year research grant from New York State, National Institute for Health, or Institute for Education Sciences. During the next phase of this work, we would track children over time and monitor change in community awareness or attitudes, children’s developmental growth based on interventions or programs accessed, and a changing landscape in early childhood policy. Such research would significantly contribute to the understanding of how children in poor communities access early care and education and how changes to city policy impact vulnerable children, or whether patterns of inequity persist and why. It is also clear that a stand-alone non-profit would not have the capacity to conduct such research without an institutional partner such as NYU to provide exemplary expertise. In order to achieve our vision, we must seek out funding to support the collection and dissemination of our idea. Given the different resources each organization brings to this partnership, we are well-positioned to do this work. We have the infrastructure to carry out our idea.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

We used a human-centered design in the following ways: 1. We have been workshopping our idea with early childhood experts and have spent the past six-months brainstorming ways to build on the strengths of our two organizations. 2. Initially, we were viewing the problem through a research-based lens. We have now shifted to thinking more broadly about developing a replicable framework from our process; this adjustment will allow for more useful tools for working in similar contexts and low-income communities. Specifically, our thinking was challenged and pushed through online comments to our initial challenge application and mentorship feedback. The way that we approach this work is through a human-centered, process-oriented lens. We are constantly reflecting, sharing, and revising our ideas as we engage in an iterative process. Both organizations had the opportunity to share their ideas with their teams. For example, at NYU-CFPC, we had students join in our process and they helped us test our ideas and we received feedback from them. Through each conversation, our team has been able to revise our ideas with the aim of making them clear and user-friendly to a wide audience.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Research tells us that early experiences matter the most, so this context is ripe for opportunities. Targeting communities, parents, and children during the early years sets a foundation for supporting optimal development and their future well-being. If we want to succeed in our work with and on behalf of communities, we need to pull from their existing strengths rather than taking a deficit-based approach. This is what our team is passionate about. For more than two decades, NYU team has been doing community-based research committed to strengthening the landscape for young children and communities of color; efforts include randomized control design trials of home visiting programs, providing state-wide technical assistance for early childhood professionals, and research and evaluation studies that examine the important role of social justice in the lives of children. Among other services, HPAC has provided the Hunts Point community with a continuum of programs for children 0-4 and their caregivers to foster routine, child-caregiver relationships, and introduction to literacy skills. The inspiration for this idea is a young boy, now 4, with special needs who has participated in HPAC’s Family School Skills program for the past two years. His mother, who spoke only Spanish, was struggling with her then-toddler, but she wasn't aware that he could potentially need additional support nor how to access it. She was referred to our community program and began attending twice a week, helping her son learn the songs, routines, and starting to enjoy taking books home. After engaging with the program, one of the teachers suggested evaluating him for additional services. She was afraid, but trusted the teacher and agreed to request Early Intervention services. The young boy was determined to need several services, and the mother ensured he participated. Late last year, the mother became employed and used a local babysitter for her son. However, because she believes that his engagement with the FSS program is critical, she has instructed the caregiver to bring him, and participate with him. Absent this safety net - this young man was on a path to enter either PreK or Kindergarten with delayed language and motor skills, as well as potential social-emotional difficulties. At that point, his trajectory would most likely include low academic performance, low self-esteem, and high incidence of risky-behaviors as he entered middle and high school. This young boy’s story is not unique. Communities with a high proportion of families that do not speak English and are living in poverty need specially designed systems to flag children as early as possible for supportive services so that they can thrive as toddlers, children, and adults. For these systems to be successful, they must be intentionally designed and based on both developmental research and an understanding of patterns within marginalized communities as described by the families themselves.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

This is a true community-academic partnership; both HPAC and NYU-CFPC have unique expertise that will strengthen this work by leveraging the important stakeholders and family voices to understand the intersection between current policy and family perception.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We welcome the expertise of other innovators who may have experience designing framework as a visual and usable tool for other community advocates to use in their community.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

Our team has expertise is in the area of early childhood development, research, policy and community relationships. Our team could benefit from mentoring on packaging our concept, describing its long-term benefit and impact in language that will resonate with entrepreneurs, and matching our long-term community awareness, behavior, and systems goals with the innovation target categories and the evaluation criteria.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

1. Hunts Point Alliance 2. NYU Child and Family Policy Center 3. LaRue Allen

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

The mentorship approach to this process was unique and innovative. Through our process our mentor highlighted key points for our team to reflect and expand upon. This feedback helped us understand the human centered design approach to our work and challenged us to think more globally in our reach and replicability of our work.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Iliriana Kacaniku

Hey Cristina NYU ,
Welcome to the Early Childhood Innovation Prize. We're thrilled to host your idea and help it grow through our human-centered design approach and toolkits. I enjoyed reading your idea about the research into understanding deepen the lack of access of low-income communities to early childhood development opportunities. The data that you seek to generate through your research can be a valuable and indispensable tool to influence a systemic change in the child-care services in New York City. While reading your idea I became curious to learn more about your advocacy strategy once you have the data secured. It would be helpful for the sponsor and the community to learn how do you envision using the evidence to guide community city level policies that will be fostering better inclusion and access of children 0-3 years old to early childhood development services?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Best regards,

Photo of Cristina NYU

Thank you Illiriana. What great questions. We are going to think about the advocacy piece and incorporate this into our work.

Photo of Cristina NYU

Hi Iliriana Kacaniku,
We see advocacy occurring on different levels. For example, since this is a partnership between a CBO and University, the CBO will leverage the community through their current advocacy work. This could include the expansion of new programming, refinement of programming, developing an advocacy group, to a name a few. We think an important piece here is that many times policies get created and implemented without hearing from the local communities. We want to make sure that we capture the communities' voice, specifically parents and caretakers, to learn more about what their need is so we (University) can provide data to inform local policies. Our team at NYU currently is part of many city level early childhood groups and our work can have an immediate impact on the current expansion in NYC.
Cristina & the team