ECE experts have, for a long time, expressed the need for creating comprehensive and strategic systems that would lead to the growth and sustainability of early childhood care and education in the future. The experts assert the need to go beyond collaboration and coordination among policymakers, government service providers and regulators, to building a system that provides equitable, accessible, and quality early childhood services.
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Goffin & Martella (2011) explain that building such an effective ECE system calls for governance, which provides a legal framework and authority to compel the sector players to implement the strategies required to develop and maintain a sustainable system. Governance has been touted as the essential component of ECE and as the key to providing a unifying structure of joining segmented programs into one sustainable and coherent system that works for the greater good.
The Three Phases of ECE Governance
Over the years, ECE governance has evolved in three distinct phases: programmatic approach, coordination and collaboration, and moving towards shared responsibility and accountability. Phase I (Programmatic Approach) is the first phase prior to the 1960s. During this phase, governance was characterized by a lack of system perspective and was limited to the governance of individual programs. The narrow view of governance during this phase resulted to issues of lack of coordination of service delivery and resulted in fragmented programs faced today.
Phase II (Coordination and collaboration) is the second phase occurring between the mid-1980s to 1990s. The second phase focused on cooperation (which was lacking in the first phase) and collaboration efforts to bring together sponsors and providers of different programs for the purpose of achieving a common goal. The coordination efforts resulted to what is now commonly referred to as children’s cabinets, which are responsible for promoting coordination across agencies.
Phase III (Moving towards Shared Responsibility and Accountability) is the latest phase in ECE governance. The lack of legal authority and accountability in the second phase led to emergence of Phase III at the beginning of the 21st century. Phase III was motivated by the recognition of need to enhance governance structures to increase equity, efficiency and accountability. The third phase is characterized by a more concerted effort to building a comprehensive system that eliminates fragmentation of programs, while strengthening new government agencies such as commissions, task forces and work groups that have been created specifically to enhance early childhood education
The Three versions of Administrative Integration
There are various versions of administrative integration that have been implemented by various states as part of “within government’ structural changes aimed at effectively governing early education services and programs. For example, the states of Massachusetts, Georgia and Washington have adopted the “stand-alone administrative integration” in which new stand-alone or co-located departments and agencies have been created to oversee, manage and align ECE programs, services and funding streams. In this version of administration, the state agencies have a secretary or commissioner and dedicated staff that has been given legal authority and responsibility to perform monitoring, fiscal regulatory and enforcement functions.
On the other hand, the state of Pennsylvania has adopted a “blended administrative integration” approach in which a newly created Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) has been mandated to provide monitoring and fiscal administrative functions. Although OCDEL has the authority to manage ECE programs, the agency is not a stand-alone agency since it is overseen jointly by the state Department of Public Welfare (DPW) and the Department of Education (DoE).
The States of Maryland, North Carolina Tennessee and Ohio have also adopted yet another approach referred to as “subsumed administrative integration” for the purposes of ECE governance. These states have utilized this version administrative integration successfully to consolidate and streamline ECE programs within a unit of their state departments of education or health.
Clearly, decisions about the most appropriate form of governance that should be adopted by a state should be informed by the structures of governance in-place and should be designed to enhance the strengths of the existing early care and childhood education services. However, the governance structure of choice should be authoritative enough to empower the responsible agency to take action and enforce decisions. The structure should also be effective, flexible and representative of all sector payers whose position is essential for successful implementation.
Challenge to Building Authority and Accountability into Governance Entities
Authority empowers a governing entity to effectively achieve its mandate by enforcing measures through formal rules, action, policies and processes. Bruner & Stover (2010) explains that authority also enables the governing entity to enforce and ensure accountability in the workforce, fiscal and programs elements.
However, the issue of building public support that accepts and embraces governance in ECE system presents the single greatest challenge to building credible authority and accountability into these governing entities. This is partly because of the public concern and sensitivity to issues of governance. The public is often affected by governance on daily basis and therefore building public support for better systems and capacity is necessary for generating greater attention to the important issues of early childhood education.
Bruner, C., & Stover, M. (2010).Building an Early Learning System. Journal of Early Child Care Association, 101 (1), 56.
Goffin, S., & Martella, C. (2011).Setting a New Course for Early childhood Governance. American Journal of Childhood Governance, 20(2), 108.