Regardless of whether you are considering policy priorities, funding opportunities, workforce development initiatives, health outcomes, or a whole slew of other examples, it is now commonly recognized that our goals are best served by abandoning an “either/or” approach and instead adopting a “we” mentality. The problem is, despite considerable agreement that we cannot achieve systemic and sustained change in isolation, I have yet to see where actions and efforts reflect and reinforce this essential paradigm shift. 

Far too often I am reviewing a new funding opportunity that calls out the importance of transformative system building, but the innovation is relegated to one child-serving sector. These opportunities frequently mandate unrealistic requirements around spread and scale when no single sector, funding stream, or evidence-based model can achieve fully-scaled system transformation in isolation from the overarching child and family serving system.

It is imperative that we rethink our flawed expectation that spread and scale can be achieved through any “either/or” approach, sector, innovation, or funding stream. There is no silver bullet.

Our children do not develop in isolation of their environment, relationships, or their genetics – yet policies and interventions are regularly segregated (by jurisdiction, eligibility, funding constraints), with some children and families being actively excluded in their implementation.

From exploration of what is possible to implementation of new programs, we must depart from our historical approach to strive for any single, solitary outcome of our work and move toward the goal of enhancing community contexts in which our children live, learn, and play. A thriving nation is made up of prosperous communities, which depend on the well-being of all members, the safety of neighborhoods we all live in, and the inclusive policies by which we all are governed.

The system building and enhancement work of Help Me Grow is an inclusion effort – a “we” effort.

Help Me Grow is a model that requires collaboration across child-serving sectors in order to build a more efficient and effective child and family serving system that promotes the healthy development of all young children. When all organizations working on behalf of young children are included, we can better prevent or reduce the impact that chronic stress and adversity have on children and we can increase protective factors that maximize the well-being of all families. Successful implementation of the Help Me Grow model requires communities to identify existing resources, think creatively about how to make the most of existing opportunities, and build a coalition to work inclusively toward a more equitable and efficient allocation of supports, services, and resources for early childhood. 

Communities leverage Help Me Grow to expand the impact of various local initiatives and efforts far beyond what any single program or intervention would be able to accomplish separately. The universality of the Help Me Grow model demands that systemic efforts reach nearly all parents and early childhood providers, create a unifying profile of what young children need to thrive in a given community, and ensure that opportunity is not limited by income, zip code, parents’ educational status, literacy rates, diagnosis, or luck.

To achieve population-level impact, we must leverage Help Me Grow’s universal and inclusive reach as a leading strategy to combat our systemic inequities and our normative exclusionary framing for social change efforts.

Help Me Grow is a systemic solution that supports communities in ensuring equitable and efficient allocation of community based supports and services. To achieve population-level impact, we must leverage Help Me Grow’s universal and inclusive reach as a leading strategy to combat our systemic inequities and our normative exclusionary framing for social change efforts. The greater the inclusion of Help Me Grow across early childhood efforts, the greater likelihood of transforming the impact of our early childhood systems.

Martini Musings is a blog series where National Center Executive Director Kimberly Martini-Carvell shares her perspective on relevant and interesting topics.

Kimberly Martini-Carvell is the Executive Director of the Help Me Grow National Center and the Associate Director for Capacity Building, Organizational Learning, and Professional Advancement at the Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.