NEW Guidance for Potential Applicants: Early Childhood Development
EHF has identified Early Childhood Development (ECD) as a key focus area for our work. We offer the following guidance as a preview of how we hope to work with you to make an impact in the communities you serve. These are not exclusive guidelines, and we welcome your input and hope to learn together throughout this process.
If you see alignment with your work and you would like to discuss your ideas with a member of our staff, please send us an email. You are also welcome to move forward without staff consultation and download and submit a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) to us by April 18, 2017. If your LOI is approved, you’ll be invited to complete the full application process. That completed application is due June 16, 2017 with funding decisions anticipated at the EHF Board meeting on September 19, 2017.
We affirm our commitment to ECD because a child’s first three years offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build a healthy brain, develop a curious and creative mind, and lay a strong foundation for a healthy, engaged and capable community member. This affirmation is rooted in research and offered in hope that together we can support a community that prepares every child – no matter their circumstances – to thrive.
Our Context - Young Children in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas
The most recent census data show that there are 783,000 children under five years of age living in EHF’s service region -- the 57 counties of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas (EDOT). At last count, more than 100,000 of the youngest children in the EDOT were living at or below the federal poverty level, and we know that there are many more in families living just above poverty level. Close to half of these young children living in poverty in the EDOT counties, reside in Harris County. Travis, Montgomery, Bell, Jefferson and Fort Bend counties also have large numbers of children living in poverty.[i]
While opportunities to support strong childhood development do not end on a child’s third birthday, we are most interested in those projects that affect children and their caregivers while the child is between 0 and 3 years of age. Further, because the stresses of living a life in poverty too often co-occur with the issues of mental illness, substance use and exposure to violence that inhibit positive parent-child interactions, we are most interested in projects that support families in low socio-economic households.
Relationships – The Keys to Building a Healthy Brain
Infant brains are busy. When positively stimulated, they form 700 to 1,000 new neural connections each second.[ii] This literal construction of the brain is irreversible and occurs at the fastest rate during the 0-3 age range. We now know that interaction with other humans is essential to this construction process. Babies or toddlers in strong relationships with at least one caring adult will develop language, cognitive skills and the resilience that allows those children to face and overcome adversity with intention and success. They will begin to develop executive function; the abilities to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. And research is now indicating that they will develop physiological structures and metabolic pathways that decrease their chances of developing serious illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression later in life. But they can’t do it on their own.
In its publication, “8 Things to Remember About Child Development”, The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University affirms that “resilience requires relationships, not rugged individualism.” Caregivers and the broader community are essential to giving children the strongest start possible in the early years. For that reason, we invite you to tell us about your proven or promising work that focuses on one or both of the following relationships.
Relationship One – Within the Home Environment
The greatest influencing factor in early childhood is the parent/caregiver-child relationship. When caregivers are responsive to a child’s declared or implicit needs, a positive “serve and return” interaction occurs. A child sends out a need, or “serves” to a caregiver with a cry, a gesture, or a linguistic cue. That adult then responds to the child with a “return” of a hug, a kind word, eye contact or another comforting act. Successful serve and return interactions maximize a child’s communication and social skills and strengthen his/her ability to deal with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as poverty, parental conflict, abuse or exposure to violence (Harvard and Moore). An engaged response from the caregiver stimulates brain growth and the release of positive neurochemicals that help moderate negative experiences.[iii],[iv],[v]
When a parent/caregiver is not responsive to a child, and that child’s serves go unreturned, the negative effects are two-fold: the child’s stress hormones are activated, and the brain development that helps mitigate these negative stressors does not occur. v Over time, when a prolonged absence of serve and return interactions occurs, the result is “toxic stress.” Along with other ACEs, toxic stress impairs mental and physical health, as well as cognitive, social and emotional functioning. iii,iv
EHF’s goal is to fund evidence-based or promising programs that strengthen and support families so they can promote healthy childhood development within the home environment.
Relationship Two – The Family/Healthcare Provider Relationship
EHF is committed to increasing access to comprehensive primary healthcare and mental health care for vulnerable populations in the EDOT. The trusting relationship between those healthcare providers and their patients sets the stage for important ECD screenings and services. Clinicians at all levels, as well as support staff, are an essential part of the community that can provide low-income parents with the latest information, effective techniques, and respectful encouragement to optimize development for their infants and toddlers.
In a clinical setting, we are interested in practices and tools designed to help pediatricians and other pediatric healthcare providers implement effective developmental screening, referrals to service, and follow-up as indicated; to identify and address instances of maternal depression; and to screen for and help to amplify or mitigate the positive and negative social factors that influence a family’s interaction with their young child.
We refer you to Francis Rushton, Jr.’s article “Building Brains, Forging Futures: The Pediatrician’s Role” for more information on this type of practice. Below, are some links to additional sources of information regarding how pediatricians, and other clinicians, might support this work.
- Healthy Steps
- SEEK (Safe Environment for Every Kid) screening tool
- Suggested screening components of American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP’s) Connected Kids Program
- VIP (Video Interaction Project)
Thank you for your interest in EHF and our ECD strategy. We look forward to working with and learning from you as you consider and begin our application process.
[i] 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates (Data is only available for children ages 0-4, not 0-3.)
[ii] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. Five Numbers to Remember about Early Childhood Development. Accessed March 28, 2017 online at http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/five-numbers-to-remember-about-early-childhood-development/
[iii] Moore, Q.M.(Rice University, Baker Institute for Public Policy). Bocchini, C., & Raphael, J. (Baylor College of Medicine). Development of an evidence-based early childhood development strategy. (2016). Published by Episcopal Health Foundation.
[iv] Osborne, C. (University of Texas at Austin). CFRP Research Brief: Supporting parents to promote healthy brain development by age three. (June 2016). Published by Episcopal Health Foundation.
[v]Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. Serve and Return. Accessed March 5, 2017 online at http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/serve-and-return/