Chattanooga-Hamilton County can become the best place in the nation for a child to be born and raised.

Early Matters is a diverse group of early childhood stakeholders collaborating to create a coordinated and aligned early childhood system in our community. We have joined a statewide effort to improve systems of care for children and families in Tennessee and the following is a community-driven roadmap for how we can get there – together.

“There is no one-size-fits all solution to ensure our children will grow up to be successful, productive members of society. What we can do as a community, however, is try to make sure children have access to multiple high-quality services and educational opportunities to meet their individual needs, that will give them a bright start in life. 

We all have a vested interest and stake in supporting our youngest residents. Whether or not children live in your home, if you live in Chattanooga-Hamilton County, you are a part of this community and you play a role in the early childhood system.

Be it the moral imperative or the scientific evidence – the children of today will be your doctors, lawyers, mechanics, pilots, mayors and teachers of tomorrow.

Simply put, our children are our present and our future.”

Members of the Early Matters-Bright Start Steering Committee 

.Learn how you can make an impact, explore the plan elements, and see if your organization made our list of people doing work to improve early education by scrolling below or using the navigation buttons. 


Why do we need an early childhood action plan?

Because not all children in our community have equitable access to high-quality health, early education, and family support services.

why that matters...

The evidence is clear— experiences during the first few years of life have a profound and lasting impact. During the period from birth to age three, the developing brain forms more than one million new connections per second. These connections form the foundation for all future learning.

 Research shows that brain development is influenced by each young child’s environment and experiences. Positive early childhood experiences— especially within high-quality early childhood services—are essential for child health, learning, and overall well-being.

A child’s developing brain depends on secure attachments and serve-and-return interactions, in which adults reliably and appropriately respond to a child’s cries, babbles, and other bids for connection. Persistent absence of warm, reciprocal interaction increases the likelihood that a child will experience poor outcomes of health and wellbeing.

Families are the primary source of children’s earliest learning experiences and their means of connection to all that they need to thrive. Early childhood services can support family stability and strong parent-child connections—the primary context in which children learn, develop, and form secure attachments during their earliest years. 

When families are connected to the early childhood programs and services they need, it not only benefits children but also enables families to participate in the workforce and access other services in the community.

Families across the United States face high costs and limited availability of early care and education. These challenges are exacerbated for families with no or limited incomes, those living in rural areas, and those that lack access to reliable transportation. Inequitable distribution of wealth and resources, the increasing financial strain on low- and middle-income families, and persistent racial segregation contribute to a reality in which early childhood opportunity gaps occur systematically and impact the community broadly. 

Meanwhile, chronic underfunding of the early childhood system ensures that high-quality early childhood experiences remain out of reach for many children.

The Economic ImpACT


Every $1 invested in child care yeilds $7.50 return on investment

Investment in child care means more income for families—for quality food, education, and savings. It means more jobs and inclusive economic growth. It means better futures for children, and more productive working adults.

A 2019 report by TQEE shows Chattanooga-Hamilton County’s working parents and their families lose a whopping
$47 million per year due to child care issues. The lost revenue to Chattanooga-Hamilton County businesses due to child care problems for parents of young children is $15 million per year and for taxpayers as a whole, that’s a loss of $12 million annually.


The Whole Child approach acknowledges that developing and preparing students for life and career requires a focus on ensuring that every child, in every school, is healthy, engaged, supported, and challenged.

Poverty and food insecurity create learning difficulties and these challenges are not isolated to any one geography or demographic. Significant portions of Hamilton County are grappling with rural poverty and food insecurity, just like those living in low-income neighborhoods in Chattanooga’s urban core.


Reducing the effects of significant adversity on children’s healthy development is crucial if they are to prosper and thrive in learning and life.

A student who does not meet reading expectations by third grade is four times less likely to graduate high school by age 19 than a child who reads proficiently by that time.

Increasing the number of college-and-career ready graduates in Chattanooga-Hamilton County could mean:


Click the green button to view a list of the local organizations and programs that make up our local early childhood system. 

The list is not exhaustive, so if we missed your initiative, scroll to the end of this page and add your name to the list. 


Click or tap each image below to explore the data for Hamilton County, TN.

So what's the plan?

Bright Start TN logo with three stars

In 2021, Chattanooga 2.0 and its early childhood action teams joined Bright Start TN, powered by Tennesseans for Quality Early Education. This new statewide network taps the power of communities across Tennessee to collaboratively design, implement and scale high-quality early care and education (ECE) systems locally, while informing and advocating for supportive state policies.

Over the next three years, Chattanooga 2.0 partner organizations and other local early childhood advocates, with technical assistance from TQEE, will capitalize on the foundational needs assessment and gap analyses work to-date, and implement the Early Matters 2025 Early Childhood Action Plan, using assessment to fuel action. All work will continue to promote equitable access to quality early childhood programs and services, with a vision of thriving families, thriving programs, and a thriving community.

This plan outlines existing impactful initiatives, the gaps we’ve found by listening to the community over the last year, and promising evidence-based strategies that, together, will comprise our community’s “recipe for success” for young children.

Graphic depicting a circle and language about the need for high-quality learning, health on track beginning at birth, and supported, and supportive families and communities



A continuum of high-quality early care and education for the 41,000 children aged birth to eight in Hamilton County, TN is available to all, and opportunity gaps by race and income are eliminated, making Chattanooga-Hamilton County the best place in the nation for a child to be born and raised.



Target population

For this plan, the Early Matters – Bright Start Steering Committee has chosen to target evidence-based interventions for economically disadvantaged (ED) children, particularly those who fall within additional subgroups as defined by the state of Tennessee’s Department of Education.

No matter how you cut the data, it was apparent that in every category, it is children who fall in the category of economically disadvantaged that stay the farthest behind in school. 





From caregivers to service providers and educators, across all three domains of health, education, and family supports, we heard a lot about what is working well in our county (the assets) and even more about the gaps and barriers experienced (the challenges). 

For a full summary of the domain assets and challenges, view the full 2025 Early Childhood Action Plan. 


While there are organizations doing vital, impactful work for children, there are still gaps that must be addressed and barriers that can be mitigated when organizations come together. Below are the combination of strategies that implementation partners will pilot locally to move the needle toward an early childhood system that works well for families. Below each strategy is a note about its status. For full strategy descriptions and a cost breakdown, please review the full action plan


STATUS: Self-funded through existing sources such as TennCare, but additional infrastructure funding needed to expand to more schools.


STATUS: Active

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Erlanger Children’s Hospital

STATUS: Not yet started.

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Seeking interested healthcare partners. Seed funding acquired. 

STATUS: Not yet started.

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: City of Chattanooga Office of Early Learning; Seeking funding.

STATUS: Not yet started

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Chattanooga 2.0 and Child Care Resource and Referral Network

STATUS: Nutrition needs assessment is active and the mental health and physical health assessments will follow.

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: The Early Childhood Health Equity working group of Early Matters;  seeking funding for focus groups.


STATUS: There are multiple strategies within this category and some are active while other are not yet started. 

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Seeking interested partners; Seeking funding

STATUS: Not yet started

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Some partners have expressed interest; Seeking funding for website development and annual maintenance.

STATUS: Active

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Signal Centers Inc.; Fundraising

STATUS: Not yet started

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Seeking interested partners; Seeking funding


Birth to Pre-K Strategies

STATUS: Awaiting funding decision

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Chambliss Center for Children

STATUS: In the works

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Partner identified; Seeking sponsor to cover recurring annual website fees.

STATUS: Active; Funded through City of Chattanooga ARP grant

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNERS: United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Chattanooga 2.0, City of Chattanooga Department of Early Learning, Chattanooga State Community College, Chambliss Center for Children

STATUS: Not yet started

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Child Care Resource & Referral; any funding acquired could be used as financial incentives for child care to implement or to cover the cost of the complementary parent training modules.

STATUS: Not yet started

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: CCR&R, but seeking grass root community partners; Seeking funding

STATUS: Not yet started

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: City of Chattanooga Department of Early Learning; Seeking programmatic funds

STATUS: Active

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Early Matters coalition members and Chattanooga 2.0

STATUS: Not yet started

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Partners identified; Seeking Funding

Kindergarten to Third Grade Strategies

STATUS: Initial workshop and Kindergarten teacher focus groups conducted.

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Multiple partners identified; Seeking funding for Kindergarten Ready awareness campaign

STATUS: Active

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; Funding Acquired

STATUS: Active


Out-of-School Time Strategies

STATUS: In progress

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Chattanooga 2.0 and community partners; Partially funded

STATUS: Not yet started

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: Members of the Out-of-School-Time Alliance; Seeking funding for OST training stipends

STATUS: Active

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER: United Way of Greater Chattanooga and community partners; Funding through TN Dept. of Education

Little girl with pigtails brushing teeth



The key pain points and needs from our community engagement sessions can be distilled down to three overarching takeaways: We must increase access to high-quality services for families, increase the capacity of caregivers and service providers, and increase communication between all stakeholders. 

Parents are their child’s first and best teacher, but parenting is hard. Caring for children is hard. At some point, all parents and caregivers need easy access to resources to deal with the challenges our young humans throw our way.



As we think critically about how best to support children in their community, we must also consider the systems within which we conduct our daily lives. For lasting, impactful change, some policies and procedures will need to be updated and improved so that they truly work for children and families.  

A systems change approach ensures that we are not simply treating the symptoms of systems that don’t serve our children, students, families, employers, and community overall. Instead, we work together to solve our greatest challenges permanently, moving from a “Band-Aid” approach to lasting change.


  • To get families the health care they need, eliminate co-pays for medical services for all families (including undocumented families) below 200% of the poverty level.
  • To increase the number of clinical psychologists available to diagnose autism spectrum disorders, increase the insurance reimbursement to reflect the actual cost of care.
  • Increase access to mental health supports for children and families.
  • Increase access to mental and physical health services by ensuring parity in telehealth reimbursement for mental and physical health visits.
  • Incentivize more child care providers to provide night shift child care.
  • Increase dedicated funding for the early childhood system including PreK for all 4-year-olds.
  • Dept. Human Services can adopt a true cost of quality child care calculator on which to base tuition certificate reimbursement.
  • Dept. of Human Services could allow a one-month grace period, before having to show employment proof of 30-hours/week, in order for single mothers to qualify for a child care certificate. 
  • Extend special scholarships for families on the benefits cliff who cannot afford child care, but do not qualify for child care certificates. 
  • Create a state-level birth-to-18 personal identification database that would allow child care and school districts to input information about a child (like PEIMS in TX).
  • School administrators can improve asset framing prior to punitive action to improve family-school relationships.
  • Enable legislation for cities to implement “property tax circuit breaker” tax credits.
  • Do not give tax breaks or incentives to check advance, payday lenders, and rent-to-own schemes who often poach on economically disadvantaged families.
  • Allow employees who work for TN Dept. of Children’s Services or a foster care contractor to become foster parents themselves.
  • Remove the 6-month state residency requirement that prohibits experienced foster families moving to town from being of immediate assistance.
  • Increase staff capacity of TN Department of Children’s Services’ social worker division.
  • Allow a one-month proof-of-employment grace period for child care tuition certificates so that single mothers can apply and interview for jobs.

What's the Cost?

A detailed account of estimated individual strategy costs can be found in the full 2025 Early Childhood Action Plan. All strategies combined require a multi-million dollar investment. The good news is, some of the strategies already have funding. 

A: The interesting thing about the early childhood system is that there is not one funding body – neither at the state or the local level. First and foremost, the aim of the Bright Start TN network is to bring early childhood stakeholders together across different sectors to improve the efficiencies of the system.  Communicating more clearly doesn’t cost money. Changing a policy or a way of doing business so that it works better for families doesn’t necessarily cost money. The second priority for us locally is to find out – what does quality really cost?

Some strategies already have funding. For others, Chattanooga 2.0 and implementation partners will be applying for grants and seeking private investors and philanthropy who are eager to improve the early childhood system to benefit our local economy. All partners investing in these strategies are doing so voluntarily, because they believe it’s the right thing to do and it aligns with their company values.

An important thing to note is this is a community-driven plan. Based on local data and community input, and with technical assistance from TQEE, we’re taking strategies that have been proven to work in other communities, and seeing if they’ll make an impact locally. We’re seeking proof points and evidence that the above strategies are effective and are what the community want and need. If they’re not effective, we won’t try to scale them.  

A: Hamilton County has seen strong early childhood advocates in the past, but we haven’t had a clear strategy about what to invest in as a community to make the greatest impact. Now we have a concerted effort to create a coordinated and aligned early childhood system, built on family input. And we’re not just focusing on one domain of early childhood development at a time. If you’re working in the health, education, and family supports sectors – now is the time to come together and get it right for children ages birth to 8. 

To work smarter and not harder, we’re going to start new strategies in small geographic footprints, prioritize measurement, evaluation and community feedback, and then scale what we know works. 

Lastly, with this plan, we’ve identified both program-level strategies AND  big policies that are serving as barriers for children and families. It will take both to see a lasting impact.


A: First, we need to better understand what strategies work in our local context. We also need to understand more clearly what funds are being invested in early childhood and then what the price tag is on an investment that will truly set our community’s children up for a bright future. 

Only then can we begin to explore as a community how to make that happen. 

A better question becomes - what is the cost if we do nothing?


JOIN US!  Reflect on the steps you can take within your own household or organization to increase access, capacity, and communication. Will you commit to making a change to improve the early childhood experience in our community?

Might you use the five Chattanooga Basics when interacting with a child you know? Can your organization adopt trauma-informed practices to better serve children? View the full list of ways you can get involved in the 2025 Early Childhood Action Plan.

STAY ENGAGED! If you’d like to stay in the loop on how this work progresses, input your name below to receive the semi-annual progress reports via email. 


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let us know what programs and initiatives we missed

Do you want to add your organization’s name to the list of programs and initiatives positively impacting early childhood in Hamilton County, TN? If so, fill out the form below. Thank you for helping us as we continue to map the good working happening in our community.


Our sincerest gratitude is extended to all those who contributed to the creation of this action plan through data gathering, survey distribution, factors analysis, story sharing, focus group and interview conducting and participation, and draft review.

Thank you to our Early Matters-Bright Start Steering Committee for their steady, child-centered leadership and commitment to work towards a Chattanooga-Hamilton County that serves all children equitably.


Whether you’re a local parent/caregiver with feedback, a service provider looking to join the collaborative work, a neighborhood leader who wants to lead community engagement to inform the work, or a peer community with a general question, we’d love to hear from you.