6. Challenges to early childhood service integration

When everyone agrees that integrating services is positive for children and families and more efficient for taxpayers, why is it so difficult to accomplish? A number of barriers make system transformation difficult:

  • Structure: An absence of high-level, consistent direction damages most initiatives. Education is a critical department with the infrastructure to provide stability for service integration, but it is also a big boat to turn. Children’s and social service ministries are the outliers in most governments and feel compelled to defend their departmental integrities and cultures. Regional infrastructure of education and social services often have different geographical boundaries and organizational structures that are hard to join up. Too many initiatives started and abandoned leave bureaucrats feeling cynical. Opponents drag their feet, banking on policy makers getting distracted with other tasks.
  • Turf: From the classroom floor to ministry offices, deeply ingrained professional and agency ideologies clash over who will lead and who will adapt. Commercial and community agencies claim loss of clients and funding; unions fight job redundancies; professional organizations worry about retaining status and members; and school officials balk at taking on tasks that are outside a narrowly defined educational scope.
  • Combining universal and targeted programs: Kindergarten is provided at no direct cost to parents. Where available, parent and family support programs have no or modest fees. Few families can find or pay for regulated child care. This fractured funding structure locks participants into their silos.
  • Communication and resources: Poor communication with parents, the public and stakeholders leads to a lack of clarity about goals, timelines, roles and responsibilities. Inadequate transition planning for agencies affected by systems change disrupts related services and creates opposition, while inadequate resources undermines quality.
  • Staffing: Insufficient supports frustrate educators and administrators who must meet new demands. Disparity in remuneration and working conditions among professionals with similar skills and responsibilities, labour contracts and professional regulation all limit the flexibility needed for systems change.
  • Balancing the books: The recent global recession and slow recovery have pressured governments to deliver programs for significantly lower costs, rolling back integration efforts as each department and agency seeks to protect its own budget and employees.

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