Montana’s Early Childhood System


The Department of Public Health and Human Services is pleased to announce the launch of a new grant funded project:

Strengthening Montana’s Early Childhood System (PDG B-5)


What's Happening:

Statewide Needs Assessment

Montana received a 2019 Preschool Development Birth through Five (PDG B-5) grant from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to conduct early childhood systems work in the state. The resultant Strengthening Montana’s Early Childhood System Project (project) is focused on developing the state’s comprehensive early childhood system to support early learning and development, family support and engagement, and health. The first activity within the project was to conduct a needs assessment.

Montana’s comprehensive statewide needs assessment analyzed early childhood system strengths and gaps related to access, quality, workforce, coordination, family engagement, and governance.

For more information contact: 

Sally Tilleman, (406) 444-2789

Sandy Cade, (406) 560-1923

Brandi Loch, (406) 560-7613

Jill Christensen, (406) 444-0309

View Montana's submitted application

Live Accordion

Learn About Strengthening Montana's Early Childhood System

We are excited to announce that Montana was awarded a $4.2 million Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5) from the US Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families (ACF). This funding was made available under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and is targeted to help states build a quality early learning system for children birth to 5 and their families.

Project Overview

The Strengthening Montana’s Early Childhood System Project is focused on developing the state’s comprehensive early childhood system to support early learning and development, health, and family support and engagement. The project will promote access to high-quality early childhood care and education (ECE) for infants, toddlers, and preschool age children in a mixed-delivery system to support the state’s vision that children achieve their highest potential in school and in life. The target populations are underserved children, families, and geographic regions, and the early childhood providers and supporting system.
Grant activities are focused on improving early childhood system functions of: defining and coordinating leadership and governance; financing strategically; enhancing and aligning standards; creating and supporting improvement strategies; ensuring accountability; and recruiting and engaging stakeholders to work in a cohesive, effective, and efficient manner. Work includes improving the early childhood system’s approach to:

  • Family engagement and partnership
  • Early childhood care and education provider professional development
  • Overall quality and access of ECE programs, providers, and services.
Project Overview

Focus Groups and Informational Meetings

Past Meetings:

April 23-24: BBAC informational meeting.

Focus Groups were held in the following communities as part of the needs assessment:

  • Anaconda/Butte, Arlee, Billings, Box Elder, Bozeman, Browning, Crow Agency, Great Falls, Havre, Helena, Kalispell, Miles City, Missoula, Polson, St. Ignatius. 
  • Currently researchers from Bloom Consulting are also analyzing data and conducting interviews with state early childhood program administrators to gain state level systems perspective.

January 24, 2019: Grant Kick Off Meeting

Needs Assessment Survey

Montana is conducting a comprehensive statewide needs assessment of the state’s early childhood system, which incorporates early learning and development, health, and family support.  The goal of the assessment is to understand the strengths and gaps of the system, not just individual components/programs, and define ways to improve it to better serve children and families and better support providers.

We continue to work on activity 1, the early childhood system needs assessment. The majority of data collection activities are complete: we received 1,200 complete survey responses from families, caregivers, and providers; we connected with almost 200 family members and providers through focus groups in 13 locations; we interviewed more than 50 early childhood system stakeholders; we have analyzed Montana’s early learning and development, health, and family support data; we have conducted best practices research with other states; and we have completed a literature review. Researchers are synthesizing and analyzing data and developing a draft report focusing on issues related to access, quality, professional development, family engagement, coordination, and governance. We hope to finalize the needs assessment this summer.

Grant Activities

Strengthening Montana’s Early Childhood System Project is committed to the following approaches in the five activity areas:

Activity 1. Statewide Birth - 5 Needs Assessment
Activity 2. Statewide Birth - 5 Strategic Plan
Activity 3. Maximizing Parent Knowledge and Choice
Activity 4. Sharing Best Practices with Early Learning Providers
Activity 5. Improving Overall Quality of Early Learning Services

Needs Assessment Approach

  • Literature review, best practices research (Montana and national, including review of existing needs assessments)
  • Extant/administrative data
  • Surveys
  • Key stakeholder interviews
  • Community forums and focus groups
  • Reliance on Early Childhood Coalition and Best Beginnings Advisory Council to support data collection processes
  • Analysis and reporting

Strategic Plan Approach

  • Review existing plans
  • Conduct regional and statewide workshops (review needs assessment findings, prioritize, define early childhood system priorities (goals, objectives, and strategies)
  • Create draft strategic plan for BBAC and local coalition review and input
  • Develop implementation plan
  • Develop evaluation plan, working collaboratively to define shared outcomes and measures aligned with strategic plan

Family Engagement

  • Define family engagement
  • Improved, culturally competent information sharing about Early Childhood Care and Education (outreach campaign and early childhood ‘one-stop-shop’)
  • Investing in family engagement coordinators with a focus on school readiness and transitions
  • Improving early childhood resource and referral processes
  • Universal screening for social-emotional health

Professional Development

  • Sharing best practices across early childhood system
  • ECE provider professional development
  • Define common coaching competencies and certifications across early childhood system
  • Coordinate training of coaches
  • Targeted PD on:    
  • Healthy development of infants and toddlers
  • Parent engagement and partnership
  • American Indian cultural competency
  • ECE targeted learning communities
  • Child care small business owners, strengthen business practices, explore shared services, support cost modeling, toolkit)

Quality ECE

  • Increasing early childhood system coordination and collaboration based on needs assessment and strategic planning findings/recommendations
  • Improving data systems
  • Increasing ECE system capacity to improve access and quality for underserved populations and regions
  • Improving school readiness and transitions

We are excited to contract with the following experts to support these grant activities:

Stakeholder Engagement

Tribal Consultation:

DPHHS is conducting Tribal Consultation with representatives from Tribal Governments and will include discussion on early childhood services delivered throughout DPHHS.  We are excited for the opportunity to listen and learn from tribal partners about how the early childhood system is operating in tribal communities and have dialog around strategic opportunities.  Please contact Lesa Evers yes with inquiries about tribal consultation.  

Tribal Consultation Minutes

Business Summit:

DPHHS in collaboration with the National Governor’s Association is hosting a business summit focused on the intersection of the business community, workforce support and development, and early childhood care and education. 

Community Coalition News

Coming Up:

July 23: Coalition Meeting

July 24: Best Beginnings Advisory Council

Coalition Meeting

TBD: Community Coalition Call in August

For more information contact Brandi Loch or Jill Christensen

Stay tuned:

For information resulting from BBAC meeting held April 23-24, 2019

For Families

The following are resources on brain development and early learning for families and other caregivers that highlight the important role that families play in promoting their child’s learning through fun, every day activities.

  • Parenting Montana.org
    • This website provides easy-to-use parenting tools to support your child’s success from kindergarten through the teen years.
  • NAEYC for Families
    • This website from National Association for Education of Young Children, has a resource page families that provides information on how children learn and creative learning ideas to try at home.
    • This website and app (that families can download) give daily ‘brain builders” - fun and interactive activities that stimulate the baby’s development. Based on the top brain science these activities recognize that our children’s first years are when they develop the foundation for all future learning.
  • Zero-to-Three
    • The Magic of Everyday Moments has video tips for how parents can nurture their children's healthy development through everyday routines and interactions.
  • Born Learning
    • Born Learning helps parents, grandparents and caregivers explore ways to turn everyday moments into fun learning opportunities.
  • Parenting Counts
    • Parenting Counts has a developmental timeline for children, birth to age 5, including their skills and abilities in physical, social, learning, and communications development.
  • Text4Baby
    • Text4baby is a mobile information service designed to promote maternal and child health through text messaging. Text BABY (or BEBE for Spanish) to 511411 to receive three free text messages a week, timed to your due date or your baby's birth date, through pregnancy and up until the baby’s first birthday. The messages address topics such as labor signs and symptoms, prenatal care, developmental milestones, immunizations, nutrition, birth defect prevention, safe sleep, safety, and more

Strategic Planning

Regional Strategic Planning Workshops:

Montana plans to develop its early childhood strategic plan using a consensus-based planning approach at the local level, leveraging the infrastructure of local early childhood coalitions and the statewide Best Beginnings Advisory Council to facilitate the planning process. Facilitators will conduct five regional workshops to discuss needs assessment findings and recommendations, prioritize them with stakeholders, and develop associated draft goals, objectives, and strategies. Facilitated workshops will address conditions needed for success, barriers to progress, and strategies to address these obstacles. Strategies will likely address approaches to improving system coordination and collaboration, increasing ECE reach and quality, approaches to increasing parent engagement and leadership, and opportunities for supporting provider capacity.

Early Childhood System Framework Grant Overview
Regional Workshops:

June 11, 2019
Salvation Army, 355 S Russell Street

June 17, 2019
United Way of Yellowstone County, Inc., 2173 Overland Avenue

June 20, 2019
St. Peter's Health, Education Center (enter building at South entrance) 2475 East Broadway Street

Great Falls
June 27, 2019
Head Start McKinley Site, 1617 6th Avenue North

July 9, 2019
Fork & Spoon Homestyle Kitchen, 302 North 7th Avenue

For workshop questions, please contact Sandy Cade.