The rapid rate of brain development occurring in early childhood creates a period of both high opportunity and high vulnerability. This period offers a critical window of opportunity to impact later health, well-being, and ability to contribute to society. Ensuring the right supports and environments during this period is critical for achieving positive outcomes later in life.
Having responsive relationships with adults, growth-promoting experiences, and healthy environments for all young children helps build sturdy brain architecture and the foundations of resilience. Meanwhile, significant disadvantages can disrupt the developmental process and lead to diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, and social problems, including homelessness and domestic violence.
Creating the conditions that support young children and their caregivers sets the stage for improved health, economic, and social outcomes that are the foundation of a vital and productive society.
Our primary population for this work is families with children, prenatal to five, based on the significant brain development, and thus opportunity for impact, that occurs during this period.
A secondary focus of our work is adolescents and their families, since adolescence represents a second period of high brain development and plasticity.
The vital work in this area overlaps with our grantmaking efforts in Healthy Women and Girls Childhood through a two-generational approach to improve both child health and women’s health.
Our work in this area focuses on four, highly related approaches:
- Screen. While screening tools, practices, and protocols are evolving, we believe a public health approach with universal screening and intervention is critical to progress. Screening and guidance needs to occur at sites already widely used and trusted by caregivers, such as the pediatrician’s office.
- Treat. We recognize that screening creates an obligation to offer appropriate follow up and interventions. If we are going to screen, we need to ensure a strong and accessible therapeutic web that offers specialized treatment when necessary.
- Prevent. We define prevention simply: supporting families and connecting communities. The work here is about creating the conditions that promote strong, healthy early relationships. Our investment in the launch of Texas Family Connects, a universal home visiting program for newborns, lays the foundation for this work.
- Inform. We believe that informing policy makers, practitioners and parents of this body of science allows for better decisions that will lead to improved outcomes for children and their families. Our work here is about promoting the science via mechanisms from conferences, learning collaboratives and use of existing resources such as Brain Story Certification.
Our goal in this work is to foster the conditions that create positive experiences for young children and their families. Success looks like:
- Supported Families. Caregivers receive both concrete supports as well as education and informal supports.
- Connected Communities. The design and norms of communities promote mutual support among all members.
- Informed Practitioners, Policy Makers, and General Public. The core story of brain development is well understood so that decisions are grounded in the science of how to create positive outcomes for families and their children.
Senior Program Officer
The poverty rate of children in Central Texas age 0-5 years old is 15 percent. Living in poverty is linked to higher levels of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and lower presence of resilience factors.
Fewer than 10% of Central Texas families who have young children and are low income have access evidence-based home visiting programs. In rural counties this number is even lower.