Families & Caregivers


Focus Area:
Family Support

The Challenge

All families want their children to succeed, but given the inequities in our society, some families lack the necessary knowledge or resources to raise their young children optimally. Teen parents, adults with poor English literacy, families in poverty, and parents with trauma may need additional support to help them prepare their children for future success. Just as each family is unique, each family's need is exceptional. Therefore Smart Start partners with a wide range of programs so that all children turn five ready to thrive.

How We Help

We recognize that the responsibility for a family's success does not rest solely with the family; it is shared with the systems within the community and culture that either help or hinder a family's ability to succeed. Therefore, Smart Start invests strategically at all levels. This includes our partnerships with local agencies and early childhood experts, our convening work within the community, and on a systems level by identifying the gaps and barriers within our support networks and advocating for change and additional resources.

Our Programs Tab

Dolly Parton's
Imagination Library

Provides books, free of charge, to children living in Mecklenburg County until their 5th birthday. Enrolled children receive one age-appropriate book in the mail each month until their 5th birthday.


MECK Pre-K is high-quality, free pre-k education for eligible four year-old children in Mecklenburg County. Classes are taught by licensed teachers and highly qualified teacher assistants. Classrooms are located in four and five-star child development centers.

parent powered

Formerly Ready4K, ParentPowered is a research-based text-messaging program for parents with young children. Each week, you will receive age-appropriate facts, tips and opportunities to boost your child age birth to five's learning by building on existing family routines.

The Basics Mecklenburg

The Basics is a public education campaign built on five evidence-based parenting and caregiving principles important for healthy brain development for children from birth to age three. Eighty percent of brain growth happens in the first three years of life, and every child from every background can benefit from routinely engaging in these fun, simple, and powerful learning experiences. The Basics brain development campaign is working through a variety of local partners to ensure that every parent and caregiver is fully supported by family, friends, and the community to use 'The Basics' practices in everyday life.


Guiding Parents to Services (GPS) supports children and their families as they transition from the Children's Developmental Services Agency (CDSA) at age 3 to potential programming with the Charlotte Mecklenberg Schools Exceptional Children's program, which provides support for children in need of special education. GPS provides navigation, educational, and emotional support during this pivotal time. The goal is to empower families to get the services their child needs.

Funded Programs Tab

Charlotte Bilingual Preschool

A 5-star program that provides high-quality, tuition-free preschool education to low-income, at-risk Hispanic/Latino children. Charlotte Bilingual Preschool prepares students for a successful transition to kindergarten and offers parent training and engagement.

Child Care Resources

The Child Care Resource and Referral Program educates families about quality child care in their communities. The families are provided referrals to local child care options through informative resources. They can attend workshops focusing on financial assistance. Enhanced services are accessible to teen parents, grandparents raising their grandchildren, and parents of children with identified special needs.

North Carolina
Pre-Kindergarten (NC Pre-K)

An income-based high-quality pre-k option for for eligible four-year-old children which prepares them for success in school. Children attend a 6.5 hour school day program following the CMS schedule. Classrooms are located in 4 and 5 star child care centers.

Nurse-Family Partnership

The Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is designed for low-income mothers and their children. It includes one-on-one home visits by a trained public health registered nurse to participating clients. The visits begin early in the woman's pregnancy (with program enrollment no later than the 28th week of gestation) and conclude when the woman's child turns 2 years old. During visits, nurses work to reinforce maternal behaviors that are consistent with program goals and that encourage positive behaviors and accomplishments. Topics of the visits include prenatal care, caring for an infant, and promoting young children's emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

Raising a Reader

Promotes literacy between parents and children by providing rotating bags of high quality books to children enrolled in child care centers and by offering onsite early literacy workshops.

Safe Journey Parents
as Teachers

Parents as Teachers (PAT) works with teen parents, to ensure that they have the resources and knowledge they need to stay in and be successful in school, while providing for their child. The PAT model includes one-on-one home visits, monthly group meetings, developmental screenings, and a resource network for families. PAT may serve families from pregnancy to kindergarten entry.

community literacy impact program

Charlotte Speech and Hearing Center provides evidence-based, early language intervention programs for children ages birth - 5 focused on building their skills in early communication, emerging receptive and expressive language. Participating preschools include: The Learning Collaborative, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, Howard Levine Child Development Center, and selected Alliance Center for Education classrooms.

The Learning Collaborative

Serves preschool children from at-risk families through a 5 star, tuition-free program with literacy-rich activities that address their educational and social needs. A Family Support Specialist builds and nurtures relationships with parents to lay the foundation for ongoing involvement in their child's education.

YMCA Parents as Teachers

The goal of the YMCA Parents as Teachers (PAT) program is to provide Hispanic parents with child development knowledge and parenting support. The PAT model includes one-on-one home visits, monthly group meetings, developmental screenings, and a resource network for families. PAT may serve families from pregnancy to kindergarten entry.

moms moving forward


Freedom Communities' Moms Moving Forward program takes a holistic and community-based approach to drive upward mobility and family stability for single mothers and their children in 28208.Participants meet weekly with Transformation Coaches who are trained in the evidenced-based EMPath model to support moms in setting and achieving goals related to housing, employment, wages, well-being, support, and financial capability. During the 12-month paid program, mothers and their children build a network of support with other program participants and connect to resources that address each social determinant of health.


NC Diaper Bank - Charlotte Tab

NC Diaper Bank Charlotte

Founded in 2013, the Diaper Bank of North Carolina (DBNC) has advanced its vision that every family in North Carolina will have access to basic necessities to support their dignity, health, and quality of life. To date, DBNC has brought three regional diaper banks to North Carolina and, in partnership with Smart Start of Mecklenburg County (SSMC), the Greater Charlotte branch opens in April 2022.
"The opening of the Greater Charlotte branch is the culmination of several years of planning and preparation."

-- Michelle Old, founder and executive director of DBNC.
DBNC has served the Charlotte area since July 2021, distributing diapers and hygiene products in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. The opening of the Charlotte-based facility in April will establish a permanent presence, enabling DBNC to strengthen local partnerships and community outreach.

Research shows that many U.S. families struggle to afford personal care items. One out of every three families reports difficulty accessing adequate diapers.

Jennifer Stamp, Chief Strategy Officer of Smart Start of Mecklenburg County explains, "Very often, families are forced to choose between buying food and diapers."

SSMC and The Archer Foundation helped secure the new facility space and raise awareness in the Charlotte community. SSMC also assisted DBNC in raising money to fund operations and staff for the first 18 months.
"It is imperative that we ensure the fundamental necessities of all members of our community are met and having the presence of Diaper Bank of North Carolina locally will provide another means to do so."

-- Jordan P. Archer of The Archer Foundation.
"Bringing a diaper bank to the greater Charlotte community has been a labor of love for us at Smart Start," added Jake House, CEO. "This valuable resource will have a demonstrable impact on the community and the families we serve."

However, our mission does not stop at diapers. SSMC invests human and financial resources in the early childhood system, convenes organizations to address opportunities, and serves as a hub for early childhood innovation. Our goal is that all children turn five ready to thrive.

You can support our mission by making a gift. Please stay tuned for more information on when diapers will be available and how families can access them.

Enroll Pre-K

Enroll Pre-K

Provide your child with a "smart start" and give your child the building blocks for success.

We exist to help you access programs in Mecklenburg County that offer high-quality Pre-K care and education to ensure children are academically and developmentally prepared for Kindergarten.

Smart Start encourages and provides awareness for the benefits of preschool programs for children in Mecklenburg County. All programs support learning, health, nutrition, parent participation, and students with disabilities.

All children living in Mecklenburg County who turn four years old on or before August 31 of the school year they are applying for are eligible