The Great Start System


The early years of a child’s life provide the physical and emotional framework that shapes individual potential. During the early years development is rapid and extensive.

Experiences in these years establish intelligence, behavioral patterns, and other personality traits that will persist throughout a lifetime.  These experiences take place in the context of family and community life molded by economic and social conditions.

The Great Start System recognizes that early childhood experiences are most profound in five key areas:

  • Pediatric and Family Health
  • Social and Emotional Health
  • Child Care and Early Education
  • Parenting Leadership
  • Family Support (basic needs)

These components make up the Great Start System and it is in these areas that Michigan’s early childhood community is attempting to make system change leading to better outcomes for young children and their families.  The status of Michigan’s youngest learners is grim.

Demographic trends between 2000 and 2006 show declines in the number of births in Michigan and the population of young children, a concentration of minority populations, and worsening trends in child poverty and unemployment among families with young children similar to that in the larger population.

Almost three of every four young children ages 0-5 in Michigan are white non-Hispanic, and racial/ethnic diversity in most of the state’s counties minimal. The two largest minority groups among young children are African American (18%) and Hispanic (6%). African American young children were heavily concentrated in a handful of counties while Hispanic children were more dispersed.


Since the beginning of the decade child poverty increased by 40 percent in Michigan. Between 2000 and 2007 the child poverty rate rose from 14 percent to19 percent of children under age 18.  Families with income below the federal poverty level ($21,027 for a two-parent family of four in 2007) do not have the financial resources to meet the family’s basic needs for shelter, food, transportation, or out-of-pocket health expenses.


Young African American children in Michigan were three times more likely to be living in families with income below the federal poverty level than their white counterparts. Almost half (44%) of the state’s young African American children and 29 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty compared with 15 percent of white non-Hispanic children.

Researchers and policy makers have acknowledged that even at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or double the federal poverty income, families still struggle to meet the cost of basic needs. Almost all government nutrition and health programs establish eligibility at income amounts above the poverty level. In Michigan two of five children live in families that have income below 200 percent of poverty. Even more troubling is that by 2007 one of ten children in the state lived in a family with income below half of the poverty line—less than roughly $10,500 for a two-parent family of four—hardly adequate even to meet the costs of housing.


Children in single-parent families, usually headed by mothers, are more likely to be economically insecure, as well as stressed by more limited access to adult support and supervision. Michigan women working full-time full-year earn only 76 percent of the income of their male counterparts, compared with a national average of 81 percent for women.1  Single women with children earn 13 percent less than their married counterparts. In 2006 single-mother families with young children had a poverty rate of 46 percent compared with 4 percent among their married couple counterparts.  Poverty during this period when the basic architecture of physical and cognitive development is being established compromises the lifelong potential of a child.

Studies show that the majority of American children spend some part of their growing up years with a single parent. At any given point in time almost one-third of the state’s children live in a single-parent family.

  1 U.S. Department of Labor,U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2006.  Report 1000. September 2007.