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Field Notes

Launching the CQI Process in Tri-County, South Carolina

October 28, 2020

About this Field Notes series

Over 47,000 children under the age of 5 live in Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties in South Carolina. Despite numerous programs and service providers, more than half of the children entering kindergarten in the fall of 2018 did not meet kindergarten readiness standards in phonics, numeracy, and social and emotional development. With funding from the Duke EndowmentTri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative (TCCC) and Root Cause are partnering to strengthen a cohort of local early childhood service providers with continuous quality improvement (CQI) coaching.

This series tells the story of this Initiative and explores how CQI can be use to improve outcomes for young children and their families in the Tri-County region

Authors: Consuela Greene and Alekhya Chaparala

Part 123

“How can we build the capacity of direct service organizations in our community?”

This is the question that our partners at the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative (TCCC) found themselves asking in early 2018. TCCC is a backbone organization in Charleston, SC, which acts as a convener for direct service organizations, school districts, and other civic and philanthropic organizations in the Tri-County region of South Carolina. Their ultimate goal is to increase student success and economic prosperity across Berkeley, Dorchester, and Charleston counties. TCCC partners with direct service organizations to support children families across the continuum from ‘cradle to career’. These partner organizations are often small, with passionate staff who wear multiple hats to provide several programs and services for families. However, limited resources often present a challenge for organizations to conduct deeper evaluation or improvement work beyond addressing the immediate needs of their communities. 

Put simply, many of TCCC’s partner organizations don’t have the opportunity to stop and ask themselves, “Are our clients being served in the best possible way?”

As a convening organization, TCCC was drawn to the idea of using Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) to strengthen the capacity of direct-service organizations who serve school-age children and their families in the Tri-County region. In January 2018, TCCC sought funding from the Duke Endowment to conduct research on how CQI might benefit the Tri-County region. The Duke Endowment awarded TCCC a second grant to pilot CQI among organizations serving children ages 0-8 and families in the Tri-County region. TCCC brought Root Cause on to facilitate this new CQI project, and we got to work cultivating the first TCCC CQI Initiative. 


Cultivating the CQI Cohort

The TCCC CQI Initiative is a 12-15 month opportunity for selected programs to receive individualized CQI coaching. In cultivating the cohort, TCCC and Root Cause worked to recruit programs from all three counties, and to ensure diverse representation and include programs which are not always at the table. We looked beyond the usual suspects, and reached out to smaller organizations, as well as those which provide services not traditionally considered within the realm of early childhood education. 

In recruiting programs to apply for the cohort, we looked for providers who met the following criteria: 

  • Direct service providers focused on children in the 0-5 age range, or parents of those children (prenatal-5)
  • Providers with a grassroots or community-based focus
  • Providers that bring a strong equity and inclusivity lens to the work (including a focus on family-centered practices)
  • Providers that have an outcomes-based focus to their work (e.g. programs that target healthy births; on-track development, school readiness at kindergarten; etc.)
  • Providers that are serving populations in the greatest need of services
  • Providers from all three counties (Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester)

Many programs that we initially reached out to had never heard of CQI; some had their own internal CQI processes, but had never practiced CQI with a dedicated coach. Through phone conversations and webinars for interested programs, we confirmed what we had suspected: that many programs could significantly benefit from a dedicated improvement process, but had neither the resources nor capacity to begin implementing one. 

In the end, we selected eight programs to participate in the CQI Initiative: Dorchester First Steps, Berkeley First Steps, Charleston First Steps Early Head Start, Charleston First Steps Parents as Teachers, Florence Crittenton Residential, Father to Father, and Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) Charleston. 

In our next post, “Setting the stage for quality, learning, and improvement in Tri-County, SC”, we’ll share more about what engaging in a CQI process meant for selected programs, and how we set about defining what quality looks like in a direct-service organization. 

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