A Note from Gail Piggott, Executive Director of the Alabama Partnership for Children
Happy New Year, and I hope you will join us in 2022 in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the founding of our agency. It has been my honor to serve as its executive director for 19 of those years. We are grateful for all the leadership, directors of the board, staff, funders, and statewide partners who have assisted in our continuous growth and expansion.
The creation of the agency came out of a Governor’s Early Learning Commission Report that provided recommendations about how to improve outcomes for young children in Alabama. We have been fortunate to have the support and guidance from multiple national partners who have helped us identify the most important indicators of child well-being and how to strategically develop plans and programs to improve them. As we started out, we modeled the agency after Smart Start North Carolina, one of the first and best-funded early childhood models in the country. One of our strengths is an active board of directors with positions that represent every aspect of young children’s healthy development, along with (10) state agency heads. Their support and guidance creates a structure that allows and requires staff to excel in our work. We have also enjoyed funding and technical assistance from national partners such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Zero to Three, the BUILD and HOPE initiatives, Project LAUNCH, Pre-K Now, Ready Nation, Child Care Services Association, Nemours, National Smart Start Technical Assistance Center, National Governor’s Association, Morehouse School of Medicine, Pew Charitable Trust, and currently the Alliance for Early Success which also provides working partnerships with The Conference Board/Committee for Economic Development, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and other leaders in the early childhood field.
State partners have allowed us to expand our program offering and extend our reach across the state. The Alabama Departments of Human Resources/Child Care Development Fund and Early Childhood Education/PDG Birth to Five are major funders; the AL Departments of Mental Health, Rehabilitation Services, Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, Health, and Education have all supported various programs. Private foundations in Alabama were critical in our early years, and we have enjoyed funding from the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation, Alabama Power Foundation, AL Child Caring Foundation (BCBS), Community Foundations, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, PNC Foundation, Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, the Daniel Foundation, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing, Publix Supermarket Charities, and the Business Council of Alabama.
Through the years, we have refined our vision, mission, and major program areas. Through the Blueprint for Zero to Five (School Readiness), the state’s Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems initiative through the Department of Public Health, we committed to an indicators-based approach that requires us to regularly compile and analyze data (indicators) of child well-being and identify national programs and practices that are proven to improve the indicators. This focus is in three major areas: strong families, optimum health outcomes, and access to high quality early learning experiences. Based on the extensive brain research, our goal is to effectively address needs in the first 3-4 years of life when a child’s brain is 85% developed. We promote early investments that can result in reduced costs later for remediation, rehabilitation, and failure in school and life. We all pay the costs when young children do not develop to their fullest potential, and relatively small investments in the critical years benefit our education system, the future workforce, and society in general. It is STILL much easier and more cost-efficient to build a healthy, productive child from birth than it is to remediate a troubled child, recapture a troublesome youth, or rehabilitate an adult who is not contributing positively to our society or our economy.
Having spent half of my career in education/higher education, I am still amazed that in thirty years, the research on early brain development has proven not to be a “trend” but has been solidified through the decades and provides a clear path to the improved outcomes we want for all of our citizens. The work we do is hard work, because this message is lost in all that we are trying to accomplish: build the workforce we need, improve our school outcomes, reduce incarceration, improve health, and reduce dependency. However, the research is very clear that poor outcomes do not start when a 16 year old drops out of school or a third grader is not reading on grade level. It starts before birth, and the window of opportunity to positively impact future outcomes is in the first 3-4 years of life. That’s why the foundation for all of our work is building and supporting strong families, ensuring access to adequate health care, and supporting access to high-quality early learning experiences. THAT’S how we get to the better outcomes we all want.
The work is hard, but it also provides such a great opportunity for seeing the development of a first-time mom who embraces the nurturing and protection of her baby; celebrating graduation with a middle-aged child care teacher who is the first in her family to attend college; hearing the gratitude of a family when you are able to connect them to resources and programs their families need, but they didn’t know about; watching early childhood teachers transform their classrooms into welcoming play spaces where early literacy is a part of everything they do; and listening as teachers and directors share how they have changed their menus, their daily schedules, their use of electronics – all in an effort to reduce obesity rates and provide for the active day young children need.
Being able to do this hard work with a competent and dedicated staff, along with partners too numerous to count, makes it the most rewarding and joyful work I have been a part of. Join me in celebrating 20 years and the growth and expansion of our agency and its success!