Goal 3 – Build the Foundation For a Healthy Life

Goal 3

Build the Foundation for a Healthy Life by investing in early childhood brain development

A child’s first three years offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build a healthy brain and lay a strong foundation for lifelong mental and physical health. The quality of the relationship and the number of responsive interactions between a child and at least one caring adult are the greatest influencing factors during this critical developmental stage.

A strong, responsive caregiver-child relationship and the infant brain development that results from that relationship maximize a child’s physical development, communication, and social skills and strengthen his/her ability to mitigate the long-term effects of stressful life events and circumstances. Outcomes of work that supports this relationship include but are not limited to:

  • Increased caregiver knowledge of early childhood brain development needs
  • Increased caregiver understanding of the brain development impacts of their interaction with their children and self-efficacy to change behavior accordingly
  • Consistent serve and return practices that characterize a responsive caregiver/child relationship
  • Caregiver behavioral health (specifically related to screening for and effective treatment of maternal depression)
  • Caregiver’s increased social capital including strong peer and family networks, coaching, and cohort support
  • Strong attachment between child and caregiver

As we focus our work in this space, we are mindful of the many systems that impact families and their young children. While there is excellent and essential work taking place in the pre-K, formal and informal group childcare, and child protection settings, we are not investing in those systems at this time.

Through its grantmaking, EHF supports community-based clinics and community-based organizations that embrace the importance of early childhood brain development and prioritize primary prevention work with vulnerable families beginning before or at the birth of their children. When we consider programmatic approaches to build these key elements of the caregiver/child relationship, we are interested in those that:

  • Lead with brain building science and share that knowledge with caregivers
  • Are attentive to the importance of maternal health and timely prenatal care, especially as it relates to building a foundation for optimal infant brain development
  • Offer and/or support opportunities for caregivers to practice new brain-building skills with the child or children in their care
  • Are consistently informed by and influenced by clients of the programs;
  • Honor caregivers’ best knowledge of their child
  • Leverage the provider/community-based organization’s trusting relationship with the caregiver
  • Have evidence of or attempt to measure change in caregiver/child relationship and/or interaction


Health systems and families implement leading practices for early childhood brain development during pregnancy and the first 1,000 days of life

STRATEGY8: Support healthcare providers to strengthen early childhood brain development

The trusting relationship between healthcare providers and their patients sets the stage for important early childhood screenings, recommendations, and services. While a low-income family’s interaction with other formal systems may be limited prior to a child’s entry into pre-K or Kindergarten, the pediatric well-child visits in the first three years of life offer multiple opportunities for evaluation and meaningful interaction. 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.

Examples of this kind of clinic-based work include but are not limited to:

  • Supporting practices and tools designed to help healthcare providers implement effective physical, social, and emotional developmental screening, referral to services, and follow-up as indicated
  • Identifying and addressing instances of maternal depression
  • Educating pregnant women and parents about early childhood brain development and connecting parents to programs and resources that build skill for and support “serve and return” practice within the parent/child relationship from infancy


STRATEGY9: Support community-based organizations to provide training to families for early childhood brain development beginning at or before birth 

Trusted community organizations are uniquely positioned to build the capacity of low-income families to strengthen the relationship to their children and optimize brain development from infancy through the third year of life. Persuaded by data that the majority of low-income infants and toddlers are primarily cared for by their parents, we are interested in strategies that optimize brain development in the context of that relationship.

Programs in alignment with our current interest in this strategy will:

  • Impact the relationship between adult and child from the first days of infancy forward
  • Emphasize the importance of the caregiver-child relationship and serve and return interactions
  • Use evidence-based or promising screening or evaluation tools to measure critical factors in adult/child attachment, relational health, and/or bonding

We recognize that measuring impact at this critical developmental age is difficult, and we welcome input from applicants identifying the best indicators of success in this work.

Organizational Effectiveness (OE)
EHF supports the organizational effectiveness of its grantees to strengthen the internal systems that enable them to do their work better and enhance their impact. Areas of capacity building include but are not limited to: strategic planning, leadership transitions, board development and governance, communications planning, community engagement, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and financial planning. During the Letter of Inquiry process, an applicant may identify its organizational effectiveness needs, if any; however, funding of OE needs will be by invitation only.