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  Free To Grow
  Mailman School
  of Public Health
  Columbia University
  722 West 168th Street,
  8th Floor
  New York, NY 10032

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NOTE: as of April 17, 2007, the Free to Grow program has closed.
Who We Are

The parents and staff who participate in Head Start programs have long known that many factors beyond the classroom affect how children grow, learn and get along in the world. They have always made efforts to remedy the kinds of problems that undermine family life, such as substance abuse and child abuse and neglect.

In 1994, the National Head Start Bureau decided to explore more systematic ways to deal with substance abuse and its impact on young children. To this end, it entered into a unique partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one of the nation’s leading philanthropies in the field of health. Out of this collaboration emerged Free To Grow: Head Start Partnerships to Promote Substance-free Communities– a national community-based initiative that focuses on strengthening the overall environment of young children, particularly their families and communities. Free To Grow’s innovative prevention approach was developed by Head Start for Head Start. Its strategies were originally tested in five pilot sites located in San Isidro, Puerto Rico; Owensboro, Kentucky; Compton, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Washington Heights in New York City.

In 2001, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of the US Department of Justice joined the partnership to launch an evaluation and program demonstration phase of the initiative.

Today, there are fifteen Free To Grow sites across the country. These sites work in collaboration with local funding and program partners, including school systems, law enforcement, and substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, to develop integrated family- and community focused prevention approaches that fit the local community context.

Free To Grow operates under the auspices of the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University, which provides technical support to local grantees in program development and implementation. The national evaluation is being conducted by Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Program and evaluation activities are also guided by a National Advisory Committee and Evaluation Advisory Panel, made up of leading program, policy and research experts in the fields of early childhood development and community-based prevention.


Grantee Profiles

National Demonstration

National Evaluation

Program Partners



copyright 2008 Free To Grow

Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.