Planning and implementing obesity prevention efforts in ECE should only be done in partnership. Partnerships, through the combined experience and knowledge of the various members, provide a strong infrastructure to support changes and provide the diverse skills needed to engage in new and creative efforts make policy and practice changes within the ECE system. Partnerships—also called collaborations and coalitions—should include key stakeholders that represent diverse groups supporting children.
Partnerships do not have to be started from the ground up. In fact, building on existing relationships usually makes for a more successful partnership and helps save time and resources. Most states and many communities have ongoing obesity prevention initiatives with established partnerships, as well as a variety of ECE setting– focused collaborations. Thus, the building blocks for a partnership to address childhood obesity in ECE is likely already in place within your state or community— it’s just a matter of bringing these different groups together if they have not yet found connections. Once established, partnerships can be strengthened and sustained with the help of a formal evaluation. See ‘Keys to Successful Partnership’ for ways to build and sustain successful partnerships.
Building and strengthening strategic partnerships for obesity prevention in ECE has numerous benefits, including the ability to:
– leverage resources,
– coordinate efforts from diverse groups,
– share planning, and
– engage in sustainable efforts.
It is essential to engage all of the key agencies and offices throughout the ECE system. The structure of each state’s ECE system is different, so it is important to understand how the system operates in your state. In some states, several agencies and departments govern or guide ECE facilities; in others, all early childhood–related programs are coordinated within one agency. Use the Partnership Assessment Worksheet to gather information to help determine if all the necessary partners and resources are included in existing partnerships.
When considering possible partners, keep in mind the value of creating public/private partnerships. Partnering with private foundations or health care systems that are involved in obesity prevention initiatives can leverage existing resources and have a greater impact. Also consider the value of “champions,” individuals or groups of people that can energize and motivate others. Champions may lead the effort to implement a practice or policy change or may provide the inspiration and enthusiasm to help others persevere in their efforts. Your champion may be a parent, a legislator, an ECE provider, or you!
Once you have determined how inclusive an existing partnership is, consider the following:
The strength of your partnership will have a strong influence on your state or community’s success with action planning and implementing obesity prevention efforts. The partnership should be responsive to the unique needs of the ECE system within your state. A strong and successful partnership will build the capacity needed to implement practice and policy changes. Thus, it is important to evaluate the partnership to understand what is working well, and where improvement might be needed. Evaluation planning begins with defining the purpose, use, and users of the evaluation, and constructing a logic model for the evaluation.
Partnership evaluation can serve different purposes, such as:
xxxxx– Determining progress toward meeting objectives;
xxxxx– Improving the functioning and productivity of the partnership;
xxxxx– Building capacity and accountability;
xxxxx– Leveraging funds and support; and
xxxxx– Promoting the public image of the partnership.
Click here to view a sample logic model and potential evaluation questions for the ECE partnerships. Additional information can be found in the obesity prevention evaluation guide Partnership Evaluation: Guidebook and Resources. It clarifies approaches and methods of partnership evaluation, provides examples and tools, and recommends resources for additional reading.
Recognizing that efforts to change the nutrition and physical activity environments in California could not be pursued effectively by one organization, in 2007, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency joined forces to convene an interagency stakeholder group of ECE experts from state and local ECE and child development agencies and advocacy groups. The Strategic Assessment of the Child Care Nutrition Environment Advisory Group was charged with 1) conducting a strategic assessment of factors associated with poor nutrition, inactivity, and overweight among young children; and 2) providing recommendations on how best to improve nutrition and increase physical activity in ECE settings.
The group met over a 7-month period and considered information from published reports and from presentations by experts to develop recommendations. One recommendation was to create or improve state licensing standards related to nutrition and physical activity. In 2008–2009, a subgroup of the interagency group formed to make recommendations for obesity prevention that were used by advocates to sponsor a bill authored by an assembly member in the California legislature in 2009. Originally this bill contained nutrition standards, as well as one recommendation related to screen time. The nutrition standards were removed during the legislative process because of cost concerns related to implementation, monitoring, and enforcement. Ultimately the bill passed but was vetoed by the governor. In 2010, a different version of the bill with more straightforward, mandatory standards successfully passed the Legislature and was signed into the law by the same governor who vetoed the previous legislation. The interagency collaboration in the stakeholder group was a success in building overall support for improving ECE nutrition and physical activity throughout state government and among many ECE organizations.