Research has shown that the first years of life are a period of rapid brain development which builds a foundation for later learning and behavior. Early adversity that can lead to immediate, persistent and long-term health and behavior consequences. This body of research also shows that that a variety of protective factors can buffer children from the brain and body effects of adverse childhood experiences, including parenting knowledge and skills, social and emotional development, social connections, parental resilience, and resources to meet basic needs.
Bridgeport Prospers is one of four Connecticut communities using the StriveTogether collective impact approach to improve outcomes across the cradle to career continuum for all children. Bridgeport Prospers believes that the community must work together to reduce early adversity and enhance protective factors, in order to ensure that Bridgeport children can be successful and healthy now and later in life. The Bridgeport Baby Bundle is a multi-pronged approach focused on the first three years of children’s lives, with the goal of helping all children to be healthy and developmentally on-track at age three.
The Bridgeport Baby Bundle – like efforts at parallel sites in Charlotte, North Carolina and Pickens County, South Carolina – represents a unified, cross-sector, neuroscience-informed approach to supporting all families with very young children. Because no single program can improve health and developmental outcomes for all young children in Bridgeport, the bundle framework seeks to strengthen and expand specific services at the community level for children, families and the organizations that serve them. Importantly, however, it goes far beyond a program-only focus to direct attention toward asset-based ecosystem change with both universal tools and strategies that can be readily be expanded statewide, and customized place-based strategies that require community-level design.
To support children’s development in the first three years of life, the Bridgeport Baby bundle focuses on six policy and systems levers for change:
- Universal screenings to identify concerns related to maternal health as well as child development
- Early intervention to support infants and toddlers who have an identified physical or mental delay, disability, special need or whose risk factors place the child at high risk for delay
- Universal home visiting to support maternal/child health and parent development before and after birth
- Early childhood education opportunities to enhance children’s cognitive and social development
- Literacy development to support early learning and brain-building interactions between children and their primary caregivers.
- Parenting supports to enhance parents’ understanding of the neuroscience of early child development.
Bridgeport Prospers is supporting a variety of specific program, policy, and system initiatives that employ these levers of change. For example, the Sparkler app and partnerships with primary care providers have engaged parents and pediatric practices in efforts to increase developmental screening and connect families with early intervention services. The MOMS Partnership addresses the health and basic needs of parents and primary caregivers while The Bridgeport Basics builds parents’ and primary caregivers’ knowledge of child development.
Bridgeport Prospers is pursuing a variety of funding approaches as it seeks to expand the impact of current and proposed initiatives. For example, Bridgeport Prospers learned from the Medicaid Early Childhood Innovation Lab, which was launched by the Center for Health Care Strategies in 2017. Medicaid transformation/redesign could provide funding for community health workers, doulas, and mental health services to support expectant and new mothers; home visiting programs and pediatric screenings to facilitate early intervention; and parenting resources in the primary care setting to help parents support their children’s cognitive, language, and social-emotional development. Bridgeport Prospers has also joined with the Health Improvement Collaborative as part of the Connecticut Health Enhancement Community (HEC) initiative, which includes a focus on young children birth to age eight who are experiencing ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences).
Since 2012, Bridgeport Prospers has played an active role in building the community’s commitment to continuous improvement in policies, systems, and initiatives that support the Bridgeport children from cradle to career. The ever-evolving Bridgeport Baby Bundle shows how a collective impact approach can produce dramatic changes in short and long-term outcomes by helping young children and their families to build a strong foundation for the future.
* Janice Gruendel Ph.D. is also a Research Professor in the UNC Charlotte College of Health and Human Services and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Child Success.