Institute for Child Success: Driving Our Future

A child's first eight years are crucial to the development of cognitive skills that ensure school success, and a host of factors--from proper nutrition to books in the home to the number of words a child is exposed to--influence that development. Children living in poverty are more likely to enter school without having the tools they need to succeed in school, according to several recent studies, including one from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In South Carolina, the Institute for Child Success exists to support existing service organizations through research and policy initiatives and integration among partners so that those policy and research initiatives are realized. "Essentially, we're a think tank," says ICS president Jamie Moon. "The Institute holistically blends health, education, and safety--not working at direct service level, but at the system level. We help direct service organizations to be more successful."

ICS was founded in 2010 led by the vision of Susan Shi, former first lady of Furman, and Dr. William Schmidt, medical director of Children's Hospital of GHS. Ms. Shi had been passionate about early childhood issues and has a long association with the United Way. She currently serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of ICS.

The organization partners closely with the United Way of Greenville County and Children's Hospital of GHS--in fact, 57% of funding in 2012 came from those two organizations combined--but it is a separate, independent entity. Headquartered in Greenville, the organization supports early childhood initiatives and policies across the state.

With no state or federal funding, ICS is non-partisan, non-profit, privately funded, and therefore able to take up in a systemic, holistic way the issue of early childhood education, Moon says. Unlike advocacy organizations in other states, South Carolina's ICS is unique in its independent status and the fact that it doesn't rely on public money--this allows ICS to be seen as a trusted, neutral broker in the area of early childhood.

In the research arena, ICS has recently published a study called Investing in Early Childhood--The Path to a More Prosperous South Carolina. This goes hand-in-hand with Kids Drive Our Future, which is a
"branding for initiative to get business community behind early childhood intervention," Moon says. "Certainly there are moral and ethical arguments for intervention, but also a strong economic argument. There are huge returns on investment when you invest in early childhood."

ICS also collaborated with the Center for Leadership in Law and Education at Clemson University to conduct a study of the early childhood policies of other states in order to make recommendations to the South Carolina legislature.

One of those recommendations that made it into the state budget in 2013 was the expansion of 4-year-old kindergarten into high-poverty school districts (at least 75% participating in Medicaid and free and reduced lunch).

In October, ICS hosted a forum at Francis Marion University in Florence to address the unique challenges of providing early childhood intervention opportunities in rural counties, where the poverty rate can be as high as 40%, compared to the state average of 28%.

Also in October, the South Carolina Early Childhood Research Symposium was held in Greenville, covering a range of topics including parent interactions, portable play equipment, and the particular needs of the Latino population.

One of the presentations at the symposium focused on the Greenville Nurse-Family Partnership, which serves low-income, first-time parents. Outcomes of this program include significant reductions in cases of abuse and neglect and other accidents and illnesses that can be mitigated by educating parents.

The Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is largely funded through a program called Pay for Success, which "leverages private money to increase the amount of funds a nonprofit service provider has to scale up what they're doing for the good of children," according to Moon.

All of these initiatives have school readiness as their goal, which in turn leads to greater school achievement and a strong foundation for future success and prosperity.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina.