The Learning Collaborative on
Health Equity and Young Children
A mother of a two-year-old is concerned about his healthy weight.
A father gets frequent calls from daycare to pick up his 3-year-old son because of his behavior. He hasn't had similar challenges at home.
A mother brings her infant in for a well-child visit and the baby is doing fine, but the mother expresses concern about the safety of their neighborhood and the stress from discrimination she has experienced. She does not want her child ever to encounter this.
Parents of two small children feel like all they do is work to pay for child care. The mother is tired and thinking about quitting work. Her appetite is poor. She has lost 10 pounds in the last 30 days and is not sleeping well.
What can early childhood program staff, health practitioners and community leaders do to address what are clearly a range of issues from medical to nutrition, mental health and employment more than any one program or provider can address?
Health equity is achieving the highest level of health for all people. Health equity entails focused societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities by equalizing the conditions for health for all groups, especially for those who have experienced socioeconomic disadvantage or historical injustices
-Healthy People 2020
Research by BUILD and CFPC found that families and children facing race and income disparities must overcome the following challenges:
- High rates of infant mortality
- Low birth weight
- High rates of lead poisoning and asthma
- Developmental disability or delay
- Food insecurity and malnutrition
Mental/behavioral health disorder
- Kindergarten un-readiness
- Third grade reading non-proficiency
Children of color and their families are more likely than white children and their families to experience social and structural discrimination, marginalization, exclusion, and poverty, all of which are detrimental to healthy development and learning. A collective focus on health equity is needed to address the underlying conditions and experiences that produce major health, social, educational, and economic disparities. The movement toward a wellness perspective in health – beyond treatment of injury or illness to promoting a culture of health – requires more intentional focus on underlying inequities that result in compromises in health and development.
From the moment of birth, children are growing and developing and exploring the world. Their well-being is effected by everything around them. There is a growing and irrefutable body of evidence, across multiple disciplines, that the first years of life set the foundation for future healthy growth and development and are affected most intimately and profoundly by the home environment. Disparities in healthy development start early in life, and far too many are the result of social and economic inequities that are disproportionately experienced by children of color.
Across different disciplines, the P.A.R.E.N.T.S. Science -- Protective factors, Adverse childhood experiences, Resiliency, Epigenetics, Neurobiology, Toxic stress, and Social determinants of health – provides both evidence for the cause of health disparities and solutions to effectively addressing those causes.
There is no single body of research – and certainly no single programmatic intervention – that is needed to achieve health equity and reduce disparities in health and well-being by race, place, and socioeconomic status. It will require new efforts and actions in the provision of health services, in child care and preschool, in family support and home visiting activities, in community building, and in economic stability and self-sufficiency.
This, in turn, requires more concerted and intentional activity to address issues of diversity and disparity within each of these fields. It requires that each do more to engage and support families and young children and include their voices in design and delivery of services and supports. It requires greater coordination and efforts to align approaches and find synergy across these efforts. And, it requires communication and education and sharing of lessons learned as new efforts are undertaken.
Finally, this requires a particular focus upon the earliest learning years – birth to five – and the specific developmental needs of young children during this period.
This Learning Collaborative is designed to be part of a larger network of individuals, organizations, centers, initiatives, and collaborations working to:
- Build early childhood systems
- Expand health’s role in wellness and prevention and population health
- Close disparities in health and well-being by race, place, and income
- Develop more culturally and linguistically responsive and inclusive systems
- Educate and advocate and mobilize to produce policy change
“Child health is a state of physical, mental, intellectual, social and emotional well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Healthy children live in families, environments, and communities that provide them with the opportunity to reach their fullest developmental potential.”
– World Health Organization
The underlying strategy of the Learning Collaborative – helping leaders who play numerous roles to address racial disparities and better integrate child health and well-being within other child and family-serving systems – will help realize this definition of child health and healthy children. This is achieved through work at the state policy level and at the community practice level.
There are three primary goals for the collaborative:
- Raise understanding and awareness of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional health disparities affecting young children among health and early childhood philanthropists, state policymakers, health care and early learning providers and leaders, and national and state-based organizational leaders;
- Advance knowledge of innovative policies, programs, strategies, and practices that promote health equity, and
- Develop and support leaders to carry out reform work at the policy and practice levels.
The Learning Collaborative’s strategies for achieving these goals include:
- Creating space and opportunity for state and community leaders to share information with peers and across states through webinars, learning tables, in-person meetings and web information exchange.
- Working closely with a group of health champions and innovators in furthering exemplary practices (through its own collaborative innovation network/CoIN).
- Providing tailored technical assistance and facilitative support to leaders attempting to tackle one or more health inequities in their state or community.
- Identifying and supporting scaling of promising practices.
The strategies for achieving these goals include creating ongoing opportunities for state and community leaders, health practitioners and champions to share information with their peers across states and across the child and family-serving systems. The Learning Collaborative will be a virtual entity where engaged leaders will explore strategies for addressing health inequities and better integrating health care and early learning efforts.