Early Childhood Development

Early Childhood Development - The Cemala Foundation Major InitiativeFor many years, The Cemala Foundation has invested in initiatives that support early childhood development. As Dr. Chris Payne, Director of the UNCG Center for Youth, Family and Community Partnerships, has said, "All children are born with the capacity to learn. It is what happens between birth and the fifth birthday that determines whether or not children will enter school prepared for school success. These early years are the most robust, yet vulnerable years of life."

Reports by many including The Brookings Institution's Budgeting for National Priorities indicate that children who are nurtured from their earliest stages of development have the best chances of achieving life-long success. From the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we know that the single most important factor in early education and care is the relationship between the child and the caregiver. And, from the Partnership for America's Economic Success, we know that investments in early childhood generate substantial financial returns, producing a rate of return of about 16 percent a year more than traditional economic development projects. Research convinces us that preparing children to be ready to learn saves education dollars, social service dollars, and criminal justice dollars.

To help children achieve their maximum potential, Cemala has supported a variety of initiatives including:

  • Early Childhood DevelopmentIn the late 1990's, $1,200,000 to the Guilford County Schools for extended day and wraparound services for preschools and for a partnership between Smart Start, Guilford County Schools, and Cemala to provide a full day, high quality preschool program for all at-risk four-year-old children over two years.
  • Since 1998, $194,000 for Reading Connections, Inc.'s family literacy program, which improves the basic skills of parents of preschool children so they can help their children be ready to enter school.
  • Since 2004, $162,000 for Parents as Teachers, which helps parents acquire the skills they need to make a positive impact during the crucial early-learning years, pre-natal to age five, when the foundations for life-long learning are built.
  • In 2006 and 2007, $140,000 for Guilford Child Development's Nurse Family Partnership, which serves low income and first-time mothers and is a nationally recognized, cost-effective model for reducing child maltreatment, delaying second pregnancies, and increasing family economic self-sufficiency.


In the fall of 2007, The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation and The Cemala Foundation were more and more aware of the increasing data indicating the importance of early childhood development in determining a child's success in school and life and the human and financial benefits to ensuring that children arrive at school ready to learn. The foundations were interested in this concept but unsure as to where to make the most effective investments. They commissioned Ready Together: Steps to Schools Success - a Community Assessment of Evidence-based Parenting Education/Intervention and Child Care Programs in Guilford County from the UNCG Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships.

The intent was to create a community effort to enhance children's development and early learning success. The project sought to redress the disparities of children's social and academic competence as they transition to school through a strong community collaborative of parent educators, health care providers, and early education and care providers. Also, it sought to lay the foundation for greater parent involvement in children's early education.

Ready for School, Ready for Life

The goals of the Ready Together initiative were:

  • County wide seamless education initiatives, programs, and services to promote high quality early childhood developmental outcomes for children birth through six through successful parenting and quality early childhood education and care.
  • Children throughout Guilford County arriving at school ready to learn with the capacity for full intellectual, behavioral, and social development during school years leading to successful adult lives.
  • Parents/caregivers assuming the important role as their child's first teacher and becoming involved parents in their child's development and education.
  • Click here to see the complete full report.


Since the Ready Together report was published in 2009, Cemala has invested in three substantial community initiatives addressing early childhood development.

  • $450,000 for Ready for School, Ready for Life, a community-wide effort to transform the early childhood system so each Guilford County child enters kindergarten ready for what's ahead. For more information about Ready for School, Ready for Life.
  • $336,000 for Bringing out the Best, an early intervention program for children birth to five with social, emotional and/or behavioral challenges. In its eighth year of operation at the UNCG Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships, Bringing out the Best provides services and builds community capacity around best practices in delivering prevention/intervention programs supporting young children's social emotional development and school/readiness success. Bringing out the Best's services are free and target all socio economic populations including non-English speaking indigent families. Cemala's contributions help support many elements of service including:
    • Groups of 5 children who meet once or twice a week for 1-2 hours providing a teaching framework for guiding social/emotional development and responsible behavior in young children; also, simultaneous parent groups.
    • Sessions for Spanish speaking parents offered in collaboration with Thriving at Three/Center for New North Carolinians.
    • Expulsion Committee, which was created to address the needs of community agencies, parents and teachers who work with young children to decrease the expulsion rate of preschoolers in the community.
    • BOB TALKS, which is a hotline designed to help with behavioral concerns in the classroom or at home. BOB staff answer questions, provide resources and support when teachers and parents feel they need assistance coping with children's challenging behavior.
  • Up to $225,000 for County-Community Teams to Improve Developmental Outcomes of At-risk Infants and Toddlers (Infant Mental Health Court Teams). In partnership with the At -risk infants and toddlersJoseph M. Bryan Foundation, the Ellison Family Foundation, and the Weaver Foundation, Cemala supports a pilot project established by Judge Joseph Turner, former Chief Judge of the 18th District Court (Guilford County). This is a judicial-mental health partnership to provide swift and effective early intervention services to babies and toddlers who have been abused or neglected so that they receive the attention and life-changing help that they need. The goals of the project are to improve young children's outcomes by providing judges with information on evidence-based services available in the community and, to create a team of juvenile and family court judges, child development experts, and community providers and stakeholders focused on young children to ensure child and family access to these programs.

    Providing these early intervention services will help restore warm and secure caregiver-child relationships and reduce the recurrence of substantial reports of child abuse and neglect for the infants and toddlers.

    The primary goal of this initiative is to improve the outcomes of the infants and toddlers brought before juvenile and family court, thereby reducing more costly and less effective interventions late in life across education, social service, mental health, and juvenile justice systems. A more detailed overview of the Infant Mental Health Court follows.

Infant Mental Health Court Team

Babies and toddlers are the most frequent victims of abuse and neglect in families. Juvenile and Family Court Judges are responsible for the well-being of the children in their courts and can be powerful agents of change. Judges are able not only to order that infants and toddlers receive the services and supports they require, but are also in the unique position of being able to mobilize the public and private resources that can help to meet the needs of these vulnerable children. However, judges can only Infant Mental Health Court Teammake good decisions and mobilize the necessary resources for children if they have adequate information. Too often, their decisions are not informed by the science of early childhood development.

They need to have available in their communities solutions for these children that are validated by research.

They also need community partners who share their urgency to take advantage of opportunities for early intervention, when young children first come to the notice of courts.

The Infant Mental Health Team combines that judicial muscle with child development, social service, and mental health community partners so that babies and toddlers are given the attention and life-changing help they need. This pilot program partners juvenile and family court judges with child development specialists to create a team of child welfare and health professionals, child advocates and community leaders to provide services to abused and neglected infants and toddlers to meet young children's complex needs, swiftly and effectively. This is a systems change initiative, focused on improving how the courts, child welfare agencies, and related child-serving organizations work together, share information, and expedite services for young children.

This project has two major goals:

  1. To increase awareness among all those who work with maltreated infants and toddlers about the negative impact of abuse and neglect on very young children, and
  2. To change local systems to improve outcomes and prevent future court involvement in the lives of very young children.

These outcomes include:

  1. Reducing the risk for abuse and neglect among infants and young children in Guilford County
  2. Improving the immediate child, family, and system outcomes related to infants and young children who present to the courts for abuse, neglect, and/or exposure to domestic violence such as: a) Increased access to and time to receipt of services; b) Increased family reunification; c) Decreased time in foster care/out of home placement; and d) Increased understanding of judges about quality services and interventions for children and families presenting in their courts.
  3. Improving the long term child, family, and system outcomes related to infants and young children who present to the courts for abuse, neglect, and/or exposure to domestic violence such as: a) Increased percent of services accessed that are evidence-based; b)Improved brain development; c)Improved social-emotional development; d) Improved parenting skills; e) Improved success in school; f)Improved coordination among courts, DSS, and other service agencies/providers; g)Reduction or prevention of future court involvement; and h) Reduction in costs across systems.

Core Components

The American Bar Association's Center on Children and the Law and Zero to Three's Policy Center has identified the following program components that focus broadly on: (1) Systems Change, (2) Services for Very Young Children, (3) Procedural Enhancements, and (4) Sustainability Efforts.

Systems Change

  1. Judicial Leadership
  2. Child Development Specialist and Guilford Program Coordinator
  3. Court-Community Team
  4. Knowledgeable Attorneys

Focus on Services for Young Children

A major component of the proposed program is the provision of training to both the court judges as well as to the other professionals involved with the courts (e.g., mental health professionals, attorneys that represent children, case workers, foster parents) on multiple aspects of early child development and early intervention. This training is provided through lecture series, individual consultation, and supervision including the following topics:

  1. Research-Based Interventions: Tools that allow the court to respond knowledgably to the multifaceted needs of young children.
    1. Training is provided to judges and court-affiliated professionals on topics such as: normative development in infancy and toddlerhood; the effects of early trauma; the importance of comprehensive assessment of infants and toddlers, and effective early intervention strategies (including parent-child interaction therapy, visitation policies that promote secure relationships, and adult psychotherapy for parents). Judges receive training on identifying children's developmental and emotional needs within the court setting and ordering the most appropriate services for children and families.
  2. Access to Early Intervention Services - Educate court about intervention services available within the community
    1. Many of the services that are being coordinated and in some cases court ordered, are available in Guilford County covered through agencies, county initiatives, and funding streams. This program aims to increase knowledge of and access to these programs through training. One of the main tasks of the court-community team and the service coordinator is to identify, coordinate, and mobilize available services. A description of these services is shared with judges and other professionals that interact with young children who pass through the courts.
  3. Mental Health Services for Children and Parents - Develop community's capacity to offer mental health interventions to parents and children together
    1. As described above, many of the services that help ensure adaptive development for infants and toddlers are available in Guilford County. However, some children display serious attachment disturbances due to a dysfunctional caregiver-child relationship. Child-parent interaction therapy is an effective intervention for such cases.

Procedural Enhancements

  1. Frequent Case Monitoring and Tracking - Hold regular case review meetings and identify members who will take responsibility for individual cases.
    1. In order to make sure that needed services are delivered to babies and toddlers in a timely manner the service coordinator has responsibility for coordinating services for children referred to the program. Additionally, a subset from the court-community team (care review team) meets regularly with the service coordinator to review each child's progress and to help identify and overcome barriers to specific services. The service coordinator (or a member of the care review team) attends all court hearings for each child to answer questions about the interventions each child is receiving.
  2. Child-Focused Court Ordered Services - Develop a shared understanding of what young children need to thrive.
    1. In addition to the formal training provided to judges, court order forms include referrals to a variety of services for young children and their families.
  3. Ongoing Training and Technical Assistance - Provide training to project team members and other legal child-serving professionals working with young children and families.
    1. Monies are budgeted for key staff attendance at Zero to Three conferences, training institutes, court team meetings, and a contract with Judge Lederman in Miami-Dade Court, where the program began.

Sustainability Efforts

  1. Sustaining Early Childhood DevelopmentFunding - Secured ongoing funding for the project.
  2. Program Evaluation - Evaluate program progress and analyze and address barriers to achievement desired outcomes so that the evaluation process helps the team improve over time.
    1. Measures will include process indicators: evidence of regular meetings of Court Teams and Care Review Team; copies of the minutes and decisions made, provision and analysis of the content of the training and technical assistance; charting of barriers identified in monthly team meetings (Results on barriers identified in the monthly meetings will be forwarded to the individual agencies and local groups (e.g., community collaborative, LICC, Smart Start) to address; establishment of tracking system of those served; number and demographics of children served; content of services provided; coordinator hired.

      Outcome indicators will include: satisfaction with the training and technical assistance provided to the courts, to the project advisory board, and providers; increased knowledge and awareness of the needs of maltreated infants and toddlers among court personnel and providers; increased knowledge and utilization of services; improved coordination of services as tracked on the service referral and utilization form developed in other projects; improved behavioral and health outcomes for infants and toddlers served and their families/caregivers (e.g., goals set/met on plan; time in foster care; number of placements); reduced recurrence of substantiated reports of abuse and neglect for those served.

      Evaluation tools that have already been used in the model court-community projects will be tailored for the proposed program: satisfaction with and knowledge gained from the trainings; meeting tracking form; needs assessment on barriers.