Building Support for Early Childhood System Reform

Author: The Tower Foundation

In 2017, Western New York funders coalesced around a shared goal to improve the region’s early childhood system. Known originally as the WNY Early Childhood Funders for Change, the alliance commissioned a report on the challenges facing area children and families. The report documented systemic shortcomings that were common across communities: a lack of developmental screenings and resources, unaffordable child care, and limited transportation options for accessing developmental programs. These findings continue to drive Liftoff’s advocacy agenda.


“The New York State Early Intervention Program has been on the brink of collapse because of historic disinvestment, compounded by the strains of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rachel Bonsignore, director of Liftoff. “More than 65,000 New York children ages 0-3 are enrolled in Early Intervention to receive developmental screenings and support like physical therapy and nutrition services—but fewer than half do.”

Tracy Sawicki, Executive Director of the Tower Foundation, has served on Liftoff’s steering committee from the beginning. “The Tower Foundation was one of the first funders to the table,” said Bonsignore. “The Tower Foundation team has given us incredible mentorship and leadership, ensuring everything Liftoff does is inclusive of all children.”

Advocacy has always been central to Liftoff’s work—and in 2023, it saw significant gains in public support and legislative progress. Liftoff hosted a series of convenings that brought together parents, clinicians, and providers to explore the challenges facing the state’s Early Intervention program and to begin charting a path forward.

Seven Learning Network Events in 2023
300+ attendees from Western New York and across the state


“These events really helped us grow momentum and build support and advocacy for Early Intervention,” said Bonsignore. “The new partnerships we’ve built, and growing public support for investing in the early childhood workforce, solidifies the work we’re doing. We have plans to meet with state lawmakers in Albany to advocate for the changes needed to ensure all Western New York children have access to developmental screenings and resources they need.”


Liftoff will continue advocating for additional access to childhood resources such as healthcare services and assistive devices to ensure all children can succeed in their formative years. As Liftoff looks towards the future, it hopes to build new partnerships with local and county-level officials and increase efforts to support children with developmental delays and disabilities.

“People are seeing the gains we’re making towards a more equitable early childhood system,” said Bonsignore. “Year after year, more people are showing up to support reforms to fix this broken system because they want to make a difference in the lives of young children across the state.”