Meeting Children’s Unmet Needs through Strategic Partnerships

In this post, originally published on the Education Development Center‘s (EDC) Learning & Teaching Blog, EDC Senior Training and Technical Assistance Associate Jessica Auerbach shares insights on the potential for strategic partnerships to improve outcomes for young children and their families. Follow EDC on Twitter at @EDCtweets.

Jessica Auerbach

Recently, two of my EDC colleagues—Rachel Christina and David Jacobson—blogged about a vital aspect of EDC’s prenatal to Grade 3 (P–3) work: fostering and forming strategic partnerships. Rachel shared some of the outcomes of EDC’s highly effective Interactive Audio Instruction work, in which we collaborate with communities around the world to reach underserved children with early childhood programs. David discussed the powerful role that community partnerships play in improving services and outcomes for young children and families. Both posts highlight how important we believe that collaboration, and building comprehensive early childhood systems, are to enhancing early childhood services.

I bring a unique perspective on strategic partnerships to improve outcomes for young children and their families. Right now, in my work for Education Development Center (EDC), I’m providing technical assistance to Federal Home Visiting Programs, including support focused on forming and sustaining strong partnerships to build early childhood comprehensive systems. However, before I joined EDC I received support from some outstanding EDC technical assistance providers, as well as some fine providers from Zero to Three, AIR, and Georgetown University, that helped advance my program’s goals as a Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health) grantee. You can learn more about Project LAUNCH, which is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and my New York City Project LAUNCH program in a new e-book that I’ve co-authored, Implementation of Young Child Wellness Strategies in a Unique Cohort of Local Communities.

In Project LAUNCH and as a technical assistance provider for EDC’s Home Visiting Improvement Action Center Team (HV-ImpACT) I’ve learned a lot about strategic partnerships.  Here are three of my top takeaways from my experiences as both a technical assistance provider and recipient.

1)  Parent/Family Participation and Partnership Are Critical at All Levels. Parents are what matter most in children’s lives. They know their children’s and community’s strengths and needs best, and that makes them invaluable partners in improving child outcomes and strengthening services and systems. Their role and voice in planning, prioritizing, implementing, and retooling strategies to meet children’s unmet needs is key every step of the way! Thanks to the Federal Home Visiting Program and Project LAUNCH, states, territories and tribal communities throughout the country are engaging and supporting parents/caregivers in high need communities as partners in improving the health, well-being, and school readiness of their children, as well as providing support to address parents’ needs.

Many Federal Home Visiting Program states and local implementing agencies have Community Advisory Boards that include families as members. In Project LAUNCH states and communities throughout the country, parents participate in the Councils on Young Child Wellness. One of the most valuable experiences I had in NYC Project LAUNCH was working with parents—30% of our council was parents, higher than our goal, and thanks to their leadership we also formed a Family Advisory Board. We used the Community Café model to support parent participation in our Council, including the annual strategic planning that shaped our LAUNCH each year and for parents to use as a mobilization tool in our communities. I love that SAMHSA, the Project LAUNCH funder, recognizes that parent involvement is essential to meaningful impact and built in federal support to ensure LAUNCH is family-driven at the state and local level. NYC Project LAUNCH also enabled me to work with colleagues to design and produce materials in 10 languages to help parents and caregivers support the healthy development and well-being of children ages 0 to 10, including developmental milestones to watch for and how to support social and emotional growth.

2)  Cross-Site Partnerships Are Key to Spreading Innovation and Applying Research. We know so much more than we are doing. By that, I mean that research in early childhood has made huge advances, but policy and practice have not yet caught up. Researcher-practitioner partnerships that cut across states, like the ones that EDC supports in our leadership of the REL Northeast & Islands—including the Early Childhood Education Research Alliance—are one important way to bridge the gap between research and practice. National technical assistance teams play an equally powerful role in connecting state and local governments to the latest research, evidence-based practices, and trends.

Across the country, large-scale, multi-site technical assistance teams are fostering collaboration among states and sites to facilitate sharing of successes, effective strategies, and lessons learned. This creates early childhood communities of practice focused on improvement and innovation. It also maximize funders’ investments by making sure that sites tap each other’s expertise and experience and don’t waste time re-inventing wheels. I definitely experienced the power of cross-site collaboration as a Project LAUNCH grantee. In NYC, another Project LAUNCH site played a big role in our decision to implement Circle of Security Parenting. While we were undergoing our process to select a model, our technical assistance provider connected us to New Britain, CT who was using Circle of Security Parenting. We learned so much from them—why they chose the model, what worked best in training their workforce to use the model, how parents in their community responded to the model—that gave us the information we needed to evaluate the model. Right now, as I support Federal Home Visiting Program grantees, I’m facilitating similar sorts of peer exchanges, helping spread innovation and information, and fostering cross-site collaboration. For example, lots of states have or are developing centralized and coordinated intake—including Arkansas, New Jersey, Georgia, New York and Florida—which benefits families by creating a “no wrong door” system that seamlessly connects them to the services that are the best fit for the family. My team and I are connecting leaders and funneling information so that more states across the country can implement centralized intake, benefiting more families. Because each state’s and community’s needs are unique, however, a key aspect of our work to foster cross-site learning and collaboration is helping each site adapt evidence-based practices and innovations to fit their specific contexts, to be culturally responsive, and to align with local needs.

3)  Reflective Practice is Key to Relationships and Strategic Partnerships. Building strong relationships lies at the core of all successful partnerships and effective work with and on behalf of children and families. Reflective supervision and self-reflection are tools that can facilitate forming and sustaining strong relationships and partnerships, even in challenging circumstances. In fact, self-reflection and relationships matter at every level of initiatives to improve outcomes for children—between TA provider and grantee, state leaders and community organization leaders, home visitors or other service providers and families, and parents and children.

Reflective supervision and self-reflection help us understand how our own triggers, beliefs, and pasts affect our current relationships, reactions, and actions. I have seen very positive results from using these tools, particularly in forming partnerships with families in high-need communities, when staff must be able to deal appropriately with their own thoughts, feelings, and values and understand families’ thoughts, feelings, and values. Today, Federal Home Visiting Program home visiting teams nationwide use reflective supervision. When I started Project LAUNCH, reflective supervision was an emerging hot topic in the field. Through NYC Project LAUNCH, we and several other communities piloted reflective supervision to Nurse Family Partnership. The Circle of Security Parenting model that we adopted in LAUNCH uses “Shark Music”—the familiar and daunting music from Jaws—to help parents reflect, understand when they are being triggered, separate that reaction, and tune in to the need the child has and how they want to respond. I love the reflection and relationship focus of Circle of Security. It is invaluable for all relationships and stages of life, and it is something I carry with me as a technical assistance provider!



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