I’ve used and seen the phrase “silver bullet” enough to know the general meaning of the term: a simple, effective solution to a complex problem. Come to find out, there’s some folklore that goes along with it, as a silver bullet also refers to the only weapon able to rid the world of mythical, dangerous creatures. Reference to it in the social sector is not all that strange then, when you think about the danger inherent to such “wicked” problems as poverty and inequality. This also explains why there are so many working in areas that address the multiple sectors, variables, and forces at play in contributing to the wickedness of these issues. Such efforts are borne out of a recognition of the need to examine these issues in context, confront them from many different angles, and accept that the answers will require us to adopt practices with “good enough” evidence of success.

So the issues we face are not easy, they’re not quickly resolved, and they’re not anything that can be tackled in isolation. This is true even as it relates to the concept of ensuring early detection and intervention for young children with developmental and behavioral concerns: significant inroads have been made in ensuring that services exist for those with significant delays or disorders (this problem is much less ‘wicked,’ and is associated with a clear and obvious moral imperative), but what about the availability of a comprehensive system to support developmental promotion, early detection of at-risk children and families, and their connection to a wide variety of helpful and supportive programs and services, not just those tertiary services with a focus on treatment? In this regard, there is still a long road ahead.

But in Help Me Grow, we find a framework that offers a blueprint for how communities can build out this system of supports, by leveraging what already exists. There is no silver bullet to be found here, though to us, this is one of the critical underpinnings of the success of the model. Communities implementing Help Me Grow work across those sectors and settings reaching children and families to identify and systematically integrate community resources; to effectively outreach to and engage providers and families to ensure awareness of the importance of the early years of life in impacting children’s lifelong social, academic, and economic trajectory; and to promote a shared vision of how best to strengthen families to promote children’s optimal healthy development. 

A new award to the Help Me Grow National Center from The JPB Foundation will amplify the key role of Help Me Grow as an “integrator” by bringing Help Me Grow to new communities and enhancing the model where it already exists to make effective use of related initiatives, interventions, and emerging best practices. It will also enable us to determine the impacts of this work, which will inform how we continue to spread and scale successful strategies. As one tangible example of the work we’ll be able to advance through this funding, we will use the next three years to develop, refine, and test, in partnership with the Center for Health Care Strategies and our affiliate communities, a novel framework for demonstrating the return on investment associated with Help Me Grow’s emphasis on prevention and promotion. Knowledge of the costs and benefits of Help Me Grow will ultimately advance our capacity to cultivate buy-in and support from new and existing sectors, policymakers, and funders.

The field is forced to confront the challenging landscape of early childhood without a silver bullet. In our case, we are reassured as we look to the affiliate network: we believe in the dynamic, vibrant learning community that is represented across communities; we believe it has the capacity to identify the strategies that will make positive inroads in developmental promotion, early detection, and linkage to services. As we launch our planned efforts in partnership with affiliates, we’re confident JPB’s investment will expand the availability of the comprehensive early childhood systems we need to promote optimal health, development and well-being.

Erin Cornell is the Associate Director of the HMG National Center.