Lean In and Listen Up to Family Voices: A New Report to Strengthen Early Childhood Services

Lean In & Listen Up: How can we strengthen North Carolina’s early intervention, early childhood, and mental health services? By listening to families, released today by the NC Early Childhood Foundation and NC Child, provides a window into what families need and want from North Carolina’s social-emotional health ecosystem for babies and young children. The report themes ideas, recommendations, and personal stories from more than 200 interviews and surveys with NC parents of young children. It is intended to be a guide for advocates, policymakers, clinicians, funders, and others interested in improving the systems of care that address social-emotional well-being for babies and young children, from birth to age eight.

Themes from the report include:

  • Healthy, well-adjusted parents are the most important resource for young children’s social-emotional health and development.
  • The people surrounding families with young children are also important resources.
  • There is a wide variety of services and programs that families either do not currently have access to, or that they feel there should be more of.
  • What families value most in providers are good people skills and compassion.
  • Families are very concerned – at times panicked and even despairing – about being able to access the services their children need.
  • Families had much less to say about the quality and reliability of services, though those themes did come up, as did family choice of services.
  • Additional barriers, like social drivers of health, also prevent families from accessing services.
  • Respondents of all races reported incidents where they felt they had been treated differently because of their race.

There were variations by race/ethnicity, income, and gender in families’ experiences with the programs and services, what families most value, and the biggest concerns and barriers reported.

Why document family voice?

These surveys and interviews conducted with parents and caregivers of young children who have interacted with North Carolina’s social-emotional health system highlight what families need and expect from the systems and providers that they and their children interact with. Immersing ourselves in the voices of parents and caregivers helps us better understand families’ experiences and illuminates our own blind spots. We hope advocates, policymakers, clinicians, funders and others will be guided by these data as we work to strengthen the early childhood social-emotional health ecosystem in North Carolina.

Who will you hear from in this report?

A team of community-based organizations interviewed and/or surveyed more than 200 North Carolina families from 28 NC counties for this project. Each of the families has or has recently had young children (birth through age eight) involved in the social-emotional health ecosystem. The project over-sampled Latinx, Spanish-speaking, and low-income families, as well as women.

How much time do you have?

Readers can explore three versions of the report, depending on how deeply they want to engage:

  • A short Executive Summary (6 pages) shares the themes and a few illustrative quotes from families.
  • A longer Overview of Findings report (30 pages) includes more quotes from families, disaggregated where possible by race, ethnicity, income and gender. It also includes more about the methodology and who was interviewed and surveyed.
  • The full Family Voice report (120 pages) includes charts showing the quantitative analysis of the disaggregated family survey data, the survey and interview protocols, and quotes from families on various themes in each of twelve specific sectors of the social-emotional health ecosystem. This section of the full-length report may be especially interesting to providers, advocates, and policymakers who are working to improve policy and practice in those specific sectors. The sectors include:
    • Perinatal supports
    • Home visiting and other in-home supports
    • Parenting education and community-based supports
    • IDEA Part C/Early Intervention
    • IDEA Part B/Exceptional Children
    • Care management
    • Medical home
    • Health insurers
    • Evidence-based programs
    • Early education (child care, preschool and K-3 elementary school)
    • Foster care
    • Ecosystem supports

This report was developed as a part of the EarlyWell Initiative led by NC Child and the NC Early Childhood Foundation.

Read a news article with audio clip highlighting themes from the report: Survey: Resources Scarce for NC Parents of Young Kids