Stronger Together: Health Care Systems Investing in Early Care & Education September 21, 2022

By Ashanti Bryant, IFF Director of Early Childhood Services


Grassroots health care service workers and professionals in clinics and neighborhoods across the country advocating for health equity have long known of the effects that community conditions have on the health and wellbeing of children and families. Many of these factors are known as social determinants of health, and CDFIs have an opportunity to partner with health care systems to improve conditions and build stronger communities.

The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as, “The nonmedical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” When considering the social determinants of health, poor health outcomes cannot alone be addressed by simple inputs of better health care, upgraded scanners and procedures, or newer medicinal interventions. As noted in a study by Paula Braveman and Laura Gottlieb, there is evidence “pointing to socioeconomic factors such as income, wealth, and education as the fundamental causes of a wide range of health outcomes.”

One of the social determinants of health is early childhood development and education. The benefits of accessing high-quality early childhood education are many, including reduced educational gaps and improved adult health outcomes. Unfortunately, years of research and community engagement at IFF have shown that thousands of children in communities that have been directly impacted by systemic racism and disinvestment lack access to that essential foundation for growth and development, exacerbating health inequities across the country.

Our goal at IFF is to increase access to quality early childhood education by providing capital and resources to create safe and inspiring spaces. But we could not do this without our partners.

Our goal at IFF is to increase access to quality early childhood education by providing capital and resources to create safe and inspiring spaces. But we could not do this without our partners.

Health care systems have a long track record of investing in programs to improve access to quality health and support services for underserved communities. In recent years, several health care systems serving communities across the Midwest have partnered with and invested in Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), including IFF, to address the space needs associated with providing services.

IFF has partnerships with health care systems across the Midwest that have supported us in strengthening nonprofits and the communities they serve. Below are a few examples of how these partnerships have enabled IFF to provide capital and real estate resources to support early childhood education providers, specifically, as they’ve expanded and increased access to quality care in their communities.

Rural communities often don’t receive the attention and investment needed to fortify their childcare systems, however, in Indiana, Franciscan Health, Appleseed Childhood Education, Inc., and IFF are partnering to increase childcare seats. Appleseed Childhood Education, Inc. will be creating a new high-quality licensed early learning center, which will be located at Franciscan Health’s hospital campus in Rensselaer. IFF brought real estate consulting expertise to lead a facility feasibility study, is serving as the owner’s representative during facility renovations, and provided bridge financing to facilitate the new childcare center, which is expected to open early next year.

In Missouri, the Health Forward Foundation partnered with IFF to provide additional funding for the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative (SNI), which is funded by JP Morgan Chase and administered by IFF in partnership with BDO FMA. The program supports nonprofits led by people of color in navigating systemic barriers to accessing capital and real estate opportunities by acknowledging disparities in lending and providing resources and tools to increase capacity and build connections to networks. Several of the Kansas City cohort members are early childhood education providers, and the program positions them with the tools and knowledge to become more financially resilient, and, ultimately, to provide higher quality care.

Several health care systems serving communities of children and families throughout Michigan’s largest two cities, Detroit and Grand Rapids, collaborated with IFF to finance new childcare facilities. Trinity Health worked with IFF to transform a facility into a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that is proximate to proposed plans for a new childcare center. Additionally, Trinity Health made a program-related investment for the development of a new center that will provide high-quality, accessible care and education to children in a high-need area of Detroit.

A 2018 IFF research study assessed the supply and demand for early childhood education in Grand Rapids, finding that only about half of the 12,000 kids in need of care were able to access it, and that about two-thirds of that need existed in predominantly Brown and Black neighborhoods. In response, IFF is developing a new 10,000 square foot early childhood education center in southeast Grand Rapids, and the Spectrum Health Foundation has provided a grant to support capital financing for the project.

Investing in early childhood education facilities is only one of the many ways in which health care systems have increasingly supported early care and education. For example, Detroit’s Hope Starts Here Imperative 1 work, which is co-led by the Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Health Department, ensures Detroit’s expectant mothers of color receive equitable access to care and adequate services through an integrated network, providing sufficiency, health, well-being, safety, and preparedness resources. This includes increasing efforts to make services accessible in spaces, places, and facilities proximate to mothers throughout the city.

When health care systems invest in childhood care and education, including providing resources for quality programs and capital to finance the development of facilities, it benefits children, families, and communities. Children have access to high-quality care and education that promotes their development, health, and wellbeing. Parents and families benefit from accessing affordable care, increasing their ability to earn income and spend it on other necessities that secure their health – including quality food and education. For communities, it means more jobs and inclusive economic growth. When health care systems collaborate and invest in early care and education, wellness rises, families are positioned to thrive, and communities grow and become stronger together.


This blog is part of a thought leadership series sponsored by The Kresge Foundation