As we stand at the threshold of a new year, it is with immense gratitude and pride that I reflect on the journey we’ve traversed together. The Help Me Grow (HMG) National Affiliate Network has been a beacon of progress, fostering growth not just in numbers but in impact, commitment, and the unwavering dedication to ensuring every child is nurtured and supported. Paving the way for all children to have equitable access to the resources they need is no easy feat. It requires persistence, resilience, and a collective effort that often operates behind the scenes. Just like the roots of a mighty tree stretch and grow unseen, the work toward social and systemic change for our children’s well-being is both arduous and inconspicuous.

What an incredible journey 2023 has been for the HMG National Network! It was a pivotal year wherein we didn’t just witness change, we actively embraced it. The unveiling of a new design for HMG National was an occasion – a juncture where collaboration and co-creation took center stage. We recognized the immense value in collectively shaping our path forward, hand in hand with our dedicated affiliates. To achieve this, we deliberately widened our lens, taking a step back to ponder the broader landscape. We posed crucial questions, seeking affiliate perspectives on the aspirations you hold dear in constructing robust early childhood systems for families with young children.

Through surveys, focus groups, interviews, and roundtable discussions with affiliates, we embarked on a journey of active engagement, listening intently to your voices, insights, and visions. Every interaction with our Network became an opportunity for dialogue and discovery, a chance to glean invaluable responses to our inquiries. We didn’t just listen; we identified recurring themes, sought patterns, and absorbed the essence of your aspirations and challenges. Affiliate input became the guiding compass, shaping the initiatives, resources, and support that the National Center aims to provide in 2024. The essence of our approach lay in understanding your greatest goals, recognizing the hurdles you face, and discerning how the National Center could become a stronger catalyst for your success. Your aspirations and challenges have become the focal point, driving our commitment to tailor our support, resources, and strategies to meet your needs.

2023 was an eventful year of discovery and collaboration:

  • From our Goal Concordant Care Learning Community, insights have shined a light on the critical need for the National Center to champion and validate the pivotal roles our affiliates play as change agents. The work of disrupting the norm and exploring innovative approaches hasn’t been and is not easy. Often, this leaves you and your HMG systems feeling vulnerable, navigating uncharted territories with determination and resilience.
  • Launching the inaugural Early Childhood Developmental Health Systems: Evidence to Impact Center, in partnership with ZERO TO THREE and the American Academy of Pediatrics, illuminated instances where the full potential of your work and the HMG Model itself isn’t universally understood or appreciated. This experience provided invaluable insights into the challenges you face in advancing collaborative, cross-sector approaches to comprehensive early childhood systems. Building consensus among diverse stakeholders while embracing dissent, ambiguity, and challenging assumptions remains a Herculean task in your pursuit.
  • The Roadmap for Advancing Family-Engaged Developmental Monitoring, a collaborative effort involving nine affiliates, the National Center, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, sought to standardize best practice in treating families as experts in their child’s development. It also reaffirmed that those implementing HMG had long been forging the path of best practice and walking that path every day. Appreciating our partnership with national organizations to provide thought leadership, this project also spotlighted the reality that without the necessary tools and resources to implement best practices in community, thought leadership alone provides little real world impact.
  • The comprehensive year-long exploration into the needs of our Affiliate Network to advance community-driven promotion and prevention policies unveiled a critical truth: the greatest opportunities lie in bolstering your coalition-building efforts, co-producing initiatives with families, and formalizing national partnerships that provide resources and support for states and communities. The job of connecting, collaborating and co-creating policies isn’t specific to one leader, state, organization or approach. Policy and community change is woven into everything we do at the National Center.
  • Your invaluable input and ongoing feedback have been instrumental in shaping our novel measurement approach, transforming it into a more user-friendly and purpose-driven process. Your voices spurred considerable efforts to clarify what we measure and why it matters, culminating in the creation of a new Excel-based tool that includes guidance and your previous year’s data – refinements made in direct response to your needs.
  • As we concluded the third cohort of affiliates implementing the HMG Return on Investment Calculator, your insights illuminated the necessity to equip HMG systems with an understanding of the multi-sector data essential for implementing this tool earlier in a state or community’s implementation journey. Moreover, affiliate feedback shed light on the imperative for the National Center to better articulate and elevate the return on investment for HMG at the national-level.

It’s incredible to look back and witness the strides we have made together in the past year.

Our growth together last year has set the stage for what lies ahead. In 2024, here’s what you can expect from the HMG National Center to further support your goals:

  1. More opportunities for valuable affiliate-to-affiliate connection

  2. New technical assistance (TA) and helpful resources to benefit a broader array of your HMG team members and partners

  3. Streamlined data collection processes that aim to make reporting quicker and easier

  4. Increased opportunities to make your voice heard and help make decisions

  5. Greater support around using data to make change and pursue new/more funding

This journey of collaboration and active engagement isn’t just a chapter, it is the ongoing value that fuels our collective progress. As we step into the new year, armed with your insights and aspirations, the HMG National Center is primed to continue its unwavering dedication. Together, we will craft a future where every child and family thrives.

Learn more about the HMG National Center’s Growing Together initiative

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.