Best Start: Nurturing Early Childhood Development and Family Well-Being

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Early Childhood and Health Foundations Visit Innovation Programs as part of the 2019 Grantmakers in Health Conference


Where can you see one of the most comprehensive and innovative approaches to child development in the nation?  King County, Washington.  That’s where over forty attendees from the Grantmakers in Health conference joined the Perigee Fund and ECFC to learn about King County’s Best Start for Kids Initiative, investing $65 million per year in the well-being of children and families.   The public initiative builds on and scales for which private philanthropy which has been a partner for many years, including Social Venture Partners, the Irving Harris Foundation, and more recently, the Perigee Fund.

Best Starts for Kids is considered the most comprehensive approach to child development in the nation, investing $65M/year in King County. Best Starts prenatal to five investments have a deep focus on early relational health and are committed to reaching children and families where they are in their prenatal to five years—homes, child care settings, and communities – with an emphasis on racial equity and culturally-specific supports. As infants and children learn about the world around them and the people in their lives, feeling loved, supported, and safe is crucial for their growth and development.  The identity and cultural match of service providers and families during this intense time is critical to effective relationship building, which in turn influences their ability to build relational health between children and adult caregivers.

A hallmark of the Best Starts for Kids initiative is that it covers a large county with both urban and rural areas, with deep roots in the neighborhoods in which it invests.   This neighborhood-based approach is exemplified at El Centro de la Raza.

El Centro de la Raza is a voice and a hub for Seattle and Martin Luther King, Jr. County’s Latino community, advocating and working to achieve social justice. Through comprehensive programs and services, their work empowers members of the Latino community.  Recognizing the importance of relational health and early supports, the organization serves as a provider of the Parent Child Home Program, a home visiting program originating in King County where home visitors model reading, conversation, and play activities designed to stimulate parent-child interaction, develop language and literacy skills, build school readiness, improve social-emotional development for the child, and strengthen positive parent behavior.

We saw a continuum of services from doula services provided by Open Arms Perinatal Services, home visiting through the Parent Child Home Program, and bilingual early education at the José Martí Child Development Center.  El Centro provides these child and families serves along with a range of supports for whole families, including youth leadership, employment and housing.   El Centro de la Raza isn’t just a multi-service center, but a place for community celebrations on the plaza and cross-racial organizing through dialogue and joint programming.

During our visit, funders discussed ways that we can promote a continuum of supports in our own portfolios – bridging health, mental health, and early learning.  The site visit grew out of discussions in ECFC’s Early Relational Health Committee, established in 2018 to: bolster the dyadic relationship between parent and child, focusing specifically on improving the relational health, the social emotional development and mental health of young children and their families; educate funders about important work that is being pursued in this area, including evidence-informed model programs, innovative systems and policy strategies, workforce development strategies and research; and infuse this work in to our conversations with ECFC’s allies and partners.


Photo credit: 20190603 143112

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