Early Childhood Initiative Prepares Norwalk Kids for Kindergarten

ROCKY HILL, CT - The 211 Child Development/Norwalk Early Childhood Initiative was formed in 2013 thanks to generous support from the Grossman Family Foundation. This unique partnership with United Way of Connecticut’s 211 Child Development, a specialized call center, was established to ensure that Norwalk children enter kindergarten developmentally ready. From 2018 to 2021, this important initiative helped to increase by 6% the number of young children arriving at kindergarten ready to learn.  

Fr the past 10 years, with generous support from the Grossman Family Foundation, 211 Child Development has partnered with Norwalk Acts and the Norwalk community to develop a system of ongoing developmental screening and supports for children birth to age six and their families using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire® and the Sparkler app, a mobile app-based service that promotes healthy early childhood development for children. 

“This exciting project is a proven success and provides a model for replication by other communities interested in supporting their children’s early development,” said Kareena DuPlessis, Director of 211 Child Development. The family friendly resources provide the foundation for Norwalk to promote children’s healthy development, engage parents in understanding their children’s development, identify children needing additional support as early as possible, and connect them to services as needed. 

The 211 Child Development/Norwalk Early Childhood Initiative succeeded in creating partnerships among Norwalk’s early childhood touchpoints and state-level resources through 211 Child Development, such as Birth to Three, Early Childhood Special Education and Help Me Grow. 

The collaboration among these early childhood partners has created an infrastructure that has increased routine developmental screenings for children at the youngest age possible by using a common screening tool, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) and a centralized data collection system that is managed by 211 Child Development. The screenings allow parents to connect to supports and services in the event their child may have a developmental delay or if a parent has a concern. The collected and analyzed data is used to guide decisions about resource allocation, protocols and policy.  

“The idea is to reach families, to empower them to understand their child’s development, and to identify any concerns or delays early,” said Marcia Hughes, a University of Hartford research analyst who studies Norwalk’s data as part of the Grossman grant. “The sooner you address problems, the better off the child will be.” Early intervention, such as through Birth to Three or Early Childhood Special Education, is widely understood to be critically important in addressing developmental delays that can impede a child’s ability to learn.

Partners in the 211 Child Development/Norwalk Early Childhood Initiative are deeply grateful for a decade of financial support from the Grossman Family Foundation. The initiative will continue under the leadership of Norwalk ACTS, a founding partner in this effort and a cradle to career, collective impact partnership and member of the national StriveTogether network. Beginning in July, Norwalk ACTS will manage and grow this early childhood developmental initiative. 

“United Way of Connecticut is honored to be a partner in this important work,” said Lisa Tepper Bates, President and CEO of United Way of Connecticut. “We are especially grateful for the leadership, from the start of this program, of our 211 Child Development Director, Kareena Duplessis, who will be retiring from our team after an incredible 30-year career in building child development systems that will continue to serve generations to come.”

Jennifer Barahona, Chief Executive Officer, Norwalk ACTS shares, “We appreciate the generous funding from the Grossman Family Foundation, so many wonderful people who have worked together to build this project, and the extraordinary partnership with United Way of Connecticut, and Kareena DuPlessis, in particular, who has contributed so much and leaves an important legacy in this work. Norwalk has built an early childhood ecosystem model that is making a difference.”  


United Way of Connecticut helps the people of Connecticut thrive through trusted partnerships and innovative solutions. 

United Way of Connecticut’s core services include the Connecticut 211 contact center and point of entry for Mobile Crisis Intervention Services and Connecticut’s Coordinated Shelter Access Networks; 211 Child Care Resource and Referral Contact Center; 211 Child Development; and administering the State of Connecticut’s childcare subsidy program, Care 4 Kids. The American Association for Suicidology honored United Way of Connecticut as the 2022 recipient of the “Crisis Center Excellence Award” for the nation. The Hartford Business Journal recognized United Way of Connecticut as a 2023 Best CT Workplace. For more information, visit ctunitedway.org. Visit our media center for media requests and inquiries. 


211 Child Development serves as the access point for the Connecticut Birth to Three System, the Help Me Grow program, Preschool Special Education Services and Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs program. 211 Child Development provides information about early intervention services, developmental concerns, managing challenging behaviors, parent education/family support, special education, disability and health related issues. For more information visit cdi.211ct.org.


Norwalk Acts is a nonprofit, cross-sector cradle to career partnership made up of more than 200 community and civic leaders, educators, organizations, and individuals who are committed to collective impact. This Collective Impact partnership brings people together in a structured way to achieve social change. Collective Impact is rooted in the belief that no single entity alone can create large-scale, lasting social change. For more information visit norwalkacts.org.

Submitted by Fairfield, CT

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