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Frequently Asked Questions​

What is Smart Start?


Smart Start is North Carolina’s nationally-recognized initiative to ensure that every child reaches his or her potential and is prepared to succeed in a global community. Smart Start helps working parents pay for child care, improves the quality of child care, and provides health and family support services in every North Carolina county.

Smart Start measurably increases the health and well-being of young children birth to five, building the foundation for all future learning, by:

  •  Improving children’s early care and education programs so that they are safe, healthy and provide opportunities for children to learn skills they need for success in school.

  •  Providing parents with tools that support them in raising healthy, happy, successful children.

  • Ensuring that children have access to preventive health care


What is the difference between Smart Start and Head Start?


Although the names sound similar, these programs are not related. Head Start is a federally-funded preschool program that targets low-income 3 and 4-year-olds. Smart Start is funded through state and private funds and provides a variety of services for children less than 6 years of age and their families.

What is the difference between Smart Start and More at Four/NC-Pre-K?

Smart Start is a statewide initiative that begins serving young children at birth with high-quality child care, health, and family support services. Education begins at birth, so it’s important to reach children early. NC Pre-K (formerly More at Four) Pre-Kindergarten is specifically targeted to reach four-year-olds at-risk of school failure by providing a quality preschool experience.


How are Smart Start funds spent?


Each local Smart Start partnership has a board of directors made up of community members that make decisions on how to best meet the needs of the children and families in their community. The majority of Smart Start funds are used to improve the quality of child care and make child care more affordable and accessible for working families. Smart Start funds also are used to provide health and family support services.

Is Smart Start working?

Yes! Smart Start’s nationally award-winning approach has resulted in:

  • More children succeeding in school – third-graders have higher standardized reading and math scores and lower special education placement rates in those counties that had received relatively more funding for Smart Start when these children were younger. This is according to research released in March 2011 by Duke University, which found that investments in Smart Start generate broad education benefits.

  • More children attending high-quality care — from 33% to 64% since 2001, when Smart Start began tracking this data.

  • More children receiving Developmental screenings – 98% of children received recommended screenings after Smart Start launched the Assuring Better Child Health and Development (ABCD) program (compared to 81% before ABCD) in participating counties.


How can I get help paying for child care?


There are two ways to receive help paying for child care: 1. Contact your local Department of Social Services; 2. Contact your local Smart Start Partnership.


Is Smart Start North Carolina’s child care subsidy program?


Smart Start subsidy is a small percentage of funding that yields big results. With just 11% of the state’s subsidy funding, Smart Start local partnerships have dramatically increased the quality of child care for all children across the state.  As a result:

  • Children receiving Smart Start subsidy are in higher-quality programs compared to children receiving subsidy from other sources.

  • The number of all children in 4 and 5 star programs has increased to 63% almost twice as many children as in 2001.

Because Smart Start maximizes the impact of its subsidy spending to drive quality for all children, it saves the state in reduced special education placement and higher graduation rates—a high return on the investment.


How can I enroll my child in a Smart Start center?


Smart Start is not a child care center. Smart Start helps make child care centers better through educational opportunities for child care teachers, reducing teacher turnover, and providing resources and educational materials.


Is Smart Start just for low-income families?


No. Smart Start works to ensure all children have the skills they need to be successful in school. That could include hearing, dental or developmental screenings, access to higher quality child care, and support for families.


What does it mean that Smart Start is a public/private partnership?


Smart Start was created in 1993 as an innovative solution to a problem: Children were coming to school unprepared to learn. Policymakers recognized that progress would require tapping into the same innovative spirit that inspired private sector advances, and therefore, established Smart Start as a public/private partnership.

Independent, private organizations work in all 100 North Carolina counties through The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc., and 88 Local Partnerships. The power of Smart Start is that it delivers outcomes by giving communities local control to determine the best approach to achieving them.




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