These days, investing in early childhood is a no-brainer.   The science is compelling and communities all over the world are working on building stronger, more comprehensive and equitable systems and programs to support families and children.


As James J. Heckman, Nobel Laureate in economics, and expert in the economics of human development, is widely quoted:  “The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families. Starting at age three or four is too little too late…  Efforts should focus on the first years for the greatest efficiency and effectiveness.”


Specifically, the research on early childhood supports shows big benefits, including:

  • Preventing the achievement gap  

Gaps in knowledge and ability among disadvantaged children begin long before kindergarten and tend to continue throughout their lives.   Investing in cognitive, social and emotional development early makes more sense than trying to close the gap later.

  • Improving health outcomes

Family-focused interventions that emphasize early education and health for young children show dramatic long-term health effects, including significantly lower risk of chronic disease.

  • Boosting earnings

Recent studies show that participation in early interventions like home visiting can boost children’s earnings in adulthood by more than 25%.

  • Return on investment

The latest research shows the rate of return on quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children is 7-10% per year as a result of better outcomes across many domains, including improved economic prosperity and reduced crime.


In Cayuga and Onondaga Counties, the Allyn Family Foundation is providing leadership and support for diverse community coalitions who are focused on designing community-wide approaches to improving early childhood systems and supports for vulnerable families.

ABC Cayuga Play Space

Since the beginning of the ABC Cayuga initiative, parents, community members and early childhood educators have expressed concern about the lack of indoor community places dedicated to young children and their families.  Parents with young children report feeling isolated as though they are "parenting on an island". With the long winter season, most families with young children stay indoors which can make creating engaging play difficult.  The county also struggles with high obesity rates among its young children and adults.  Physical play: moving, skipping, jumping, climbing are all great for children's bodies and minds.  Research has also shown us that the social connections created through play reduce stress in both the children and parents.  Peer support for adults makes the dual roles as their child's first teacher and leader of a new family more positive, with a less stressful home environment which leads to better child outcomes.  Parents in Cayuga County need more opportunities for themselves and their children to socialize with peers and engage in physical play with their children. 

Play is how young children learn.  It is essential for healthy development.  Play contributes to the cognitive, physical social and emotional well-being of children. It also provides opportunities for parents to connect with and engage their children.  Parents are often children’s first play partners. As children mature, they begin to take initiative in generating their own activities, but parents remain involved on the sidelines through comments and prompting. Play with parents sets the stage for children’s ability to successfully play with peers. Through play, children learn and practice cognitive skills including language, problem solving, creativity, and self regulation. Socio-emotional growth can be seen in children’s ability to interact with others, negotiate, and compromise. They also practice strategies to cope with fear, anger, and frustration. Moreover, block building, drawing, running, and jumping all contribute to the development of fine and gross motor skills. 

In early 2017, ABC Cayuga officially opened the ABC Cayuga Play Space: 5,470 sq feet of space at 63 Genesee Street in downtown Auburn to create a dedicated safe environment that provides resources for early childhood learning and development (0-6 years of age) and allows parents and caregivers the opportunity to meet with other parents and professionals. The mission of the Play Space is to enrich young children’s lives through play by providing a welcoming place where young children and their families play, learn and grow together. The vision and values of the Play Space  are: Welcoming, Inspiring, Encouraging and Learning through Play.

Early Childhood Alliance

The Early Childhood Alliance (ECA) was launched in January 2015.  The ECA is a diverse cross-section of the community stakeholders that impact the early childhood system in Onondaga County.  The Alliance works within the greater community to develop a coordinated and strategic early childhood system.

Over the past year, the ECA put together a framework for this important work.  We have been deliberate and thoughtful about having data and public input drive our strategic planning process.  

The goal of the ECA is:  All young children in Onondaga County are healthy, thriving and ready to succeed in school; all families of young children are supported in their parenting and have the knowledge, skills, confidence and resources they need to raise their children in healthy and nurturing environments.  

The ECA's four Strategic Priorities are:

  • Design a community infusion strategy – Talk. Read. Sing. Play.


  • Develop and implement a community-wide system for comprehensive screening and early intervention   


  • Increase the numbers of children that have high quality child care experiences 


  • Advance comprehensive supports for pregnant women, parenting families and women of childbearing age  



For more information on the Early Childhood Alliance, contact Executive Director Laurie Black at ecaonondaga@gmail.com.   

ABC Cayuga


Research has shown that the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical to brain development and success in school.  In fact, eighty percent (80%) of a child’s brain develops by the age of three and ninety percent (90%) is developed by age five. Learning experiences in the home and in enriched child care settings lay the foundation for both community development and economic development, as capable children become the foundation of a healthy and successful community.  

In 2011 the Allyn Foundation, working with community stakeholders and service providers, began exploring options for developing a community- wide initiative that would support parents and families as a key part of success in early childhood development.  The collaborative effort that evolved from this early work was named ABC Cayuga and the group continues to work together supporting families while engaged in on-going efforts to refine and improve programming.

ABC Cayuga is grounded in the belief that young children need a nurturing community environment to thrive and to meet their developmental milestones.  Likewise the group believes that the best way to build community is by supporting young children and their families in order to create an environment where they can learn, achieve and succeed.  ABC Cayuga believes that the success of our children and our community are tightly interwoven.

After exploring a number of models for community based collaboration, ABC Cayuga has adopted the Strengthening Families framework as the guiding principles for our work.  Strengthening Families, an initiative developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), is a national program embedded in early childhood work in 30 states throughout the country.  Strengthening Families is a framework developed by CSSP over the last decade to support early childhood development and prevent child abuse and neglect.  

Over the past nine years, ABC Cayuga has been instrumental in initiating, supporting and promoting many community programs and activities aimed at mobilizing community partners to build family strengths, promote optimal development and reduce child abuse and neglect. These activities include the Nurse Family Partnership, Community Cafes, Born Learning Academy, Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Growing Together conference, Triple P parenting programs and many other community outreach activities.