BY CASSANDRA THERRIAULT, MPH
Measuring the effectiveness of our efforts to build strong early childhood systems is not an easy thing to do, but this heavy lift is central to my new role at the Help Me Grow National Center. My charge on the team will be to assist in the enhancement and assessment of the model and support research initiatives that bring new innovations and opportunities to the Help Me Grow affiliate network.
As the summer comes to an end, the Help Me Grow National Center and each of the Help Me Grow systems are preparing for one of the primary projects we use as a Network to examine implementation progress: the annual HMG Fidelity Assessment. I think many of you would agree, this is a busy time of the year to start a new job with responsibilities related to evaluating a complex network that contributes to child health in dynamic ways!
The thing is, I couldn’t have asked for a better assessment to lead. As I have explored affiliate responses to the Fidelity Assessment from previous years, I learned a lot about each of the HMG systems. Affiliates shared how they are implementing the model, navigating barriers in their communities, connecting with families, and developing a strong workforce that will lead the way in improving child health through equitable access and linkage to crucial services.
Most of my career has revolved around families and the systems and strategies that help to empower parents and support their children’s growth.
This has looked different for me over the last five years, but one factor has remained the same: the health and wellbeing of children. The first opportunity I had after college was working with refugee families in my home city of Lowell, Massachusetts. More specifically, I designed programs tailored to the needs of refugee youth who were assimilating to a new home, new school, and new social groups. Through this work, I learned firsthand about trauma and the effects of adverse experiences on young children. I have learned from parents what it looks like to leave everything you have to pursue a better life for your family and the barriers that make this difficult to do.
This work led me to realize that my drive to wake up every morning lies in helping families tackle heavy lifts.
It was shortly after this position in my hometown that I found myself looking for more opportunity to learn about social justice and acquire the leadership skills needed to best help families. My journey eventually led me to Hartford, Connecticut to participate in AmeriCorps at a university-led nonprofit called UConn Husky Sport. This 2-year experience turned into five years, and during that time I decided to pursue my Masters in Public Health. During my time with Husky Sport, my days were filled with teaching Pre-K to fourth grade students how to read and eat healthy, creating learning opportunities for community members around health and food access, developing evaluation tools to assess the effectiveness of literacy and wellness programs for young children and their families, and surveying community members to identify barriers that impact their ability to be healthy.
As I worked alongside families to eliminate barriers impacting their health, it became clear to me that these were not just personal barriers, but longstanding institutional strongholds that prevent families and children from being the healthiest they can be.
These systemic obstacles contribute to the environments in which we live, learn, eat, and play – ultimately influencing our health. The impact of social determinants of health is not a new concept, especially to HMG affiliates working daily to meet the needs of families who face these barriers, and affiliates across the country share a goal of building systems that connect families to a wide variety of resources equitably and efficiently. As I learned more about this shared goal during the interview process with the National Center, it became clear that a new role supporting HMG affiliates would be a strategic way in which I could continue to help families tackle the heavy lifts that often have consequences for their children’s health.
As we embark on the Fidelity Assessment this year, I would encourage the HMG affiliate network to remember that the assessment is just one way that the National Center gathers the information we need to support affiliates in making the heavy lifts for families a little lighter.
With the information gathered through each Fidelity Assessment we can:
- Track the progression and implementation of the Help Me Grow model across the affiliate network;
- Identify barriers at the community and state-level that exist for families and their children;
- Identify gaps in policy and systems that prevent children from being healthy;
- Strengthen technical assistance from the HMG National Center;
- Strengthen the peer-to-peer connection amongst affiliates that are experiencing similar barriers
For assistance with this year’s Fidelity Assessment please reach out to me, Cassie Therriault!