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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

Program Partners

Mailman School of Public Health
The Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University serves as the National Program Office (NPO) for Free To Grow. Operating under the direction of Judith E. Jones, the NPO is responsible for technical assistance and monitoring of grantee progress, dissemination of lessons learned, and relationship-building with key national stakeholders to support policy change to implement the initiative's most effective strategies more broadly. The NPO's staff includes a diverse team of family and community focused prevention specialists who work in partnership with grantees to support the achievement of local and national program outcomes.

The Mailman School of Public Health was one of the nation's first accredited schools of public health. Taking a multi-disciplinary approach, the Mailman School prepares students to meet the complex public health challenges that will face our country and the world in coming years. Throughout its history, the Mailman School has been a national and international leader in public health research, education, and service. Today, the School is addressing some of our nation's toughest public health problems, including the prevention of substance abuse and child abuse. It is therefore a fitting institutional home for Free To Grow.

National Head Start Bureau
The National Head Start Bureau administers Head Start and Early Head Start—large federal initiatives designed to foster the healthy development and school readiness of young children in low-income families. Head Start services are delivered through local programs run by approximately 1,500 local nonprofit organizations nationwide, serving over 900,000 children from birth to age five, pregnant women and their families. The National Head Start Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Head Start is an ideal partner for Free To Grow. The program has a long history of working with preschool children and their families in some of the nation's toughest communities, and the great majority of Head Start agencies have won the trust and high regard of those communities. Moreover, Head Start's goal–to assist with the young child's total development–fits perfectly with Free To Grow's mission. The partnership is also strengthened by Head Start's community focus. A hallmark of Head Start is the conviction that children thrive when families and communities have the knowledge and resources needed to avoid risk and seize opportunity. Now in its fourth decade, Head Start has a long tradition of delivering comprehensive services, addressing not only children's development and learning, but also the full range of their nutritional, health, and human service needs. The program also addresses factors that help parents do a good job, including their literacy and employment skills and their access to community services.

Free To Grow has built its approach to support and enhance the guidelines outlined in Head Start's Performance Standards. These Standards define not only the services that programs must provide to children and families, but also the quality of those services. Particular areas of focus include expanded family and community assessment strategies, enhanced partnership and parent advocacy opportunities, restructured family service practices, and increased attention to tracking program outcomes.

Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Established in 1996, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has identified helping to protect children from abuse and neglect as one of its key goals. The foundation's activities are guided by the will of Doris Duke. In her will, Doris Duke expressed her interest in "the prevention of cruelty to children." That commitment is reflected in the Foundation's Child Abuse Prevention Program, which was established in September 2000. This program seeks to protect children from abuse and neglect in order to promote their healthy development. The Foundation supports national organizations that test, expand, and/or evaluate the effectiveness of child abuse prevention services. In addition, DDCF supports national public awareness efforts and applied research related to child abuse and neglect and its prevention.

Support from the Foundation has allowed Free To Grow to expand its mission to incorporate an emphasis on preventing and addressing child abuse and neglect. Recognizing the critical link between substance abuse and child abuse – experts estimate that substance abuse problems exist in between 50-70% of abuse and neglect cases – DDCF has provided nearly $2.9 million in program and technical assistance funding to support the following objectives:

  • Strengthen Free To Grow outreach and recruitment efforts to identify and support families with children at risk of abuse and neglect within Head Start and its surrounding community

  • Enhance partnerships to increase access to substance abuse treatment for identified families in need of services

  • Enhance existing Free To Grow assessment strategies to identify families at risk of child abuse and neglect

  • Expand Free To Grow activities designed to support the emotional/social development of young children by improving parent/child communication

  • Expand utilization of research tested parenting curricula with identified high risk families

  • Strengthen program partnerships to help parents meet basic needs to provide housing, clothing, food, and access to health care for their children

  • Expand Free To Grow activities designed to reduce family isolation, and to strengthen family support networks

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Established as a national philanthropy in 1972, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest U.S. foundation devoted to improving the health and health care of all Americans. The foundation is committed to assuring that all Americans have access to basic health care at reasonable cost. In addition, its grant making seeks to promote healthy communities and lifestyles and reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by substance abuse—tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.

In order to address this significant threat to the nation's health, the Foundation has been testing a range of research-based interventions that incorporate innovative strategies to determine what works best, under what circumstances, to reduce the harm of substance abuse. In 1993, recognizing the lack of substance abuse prevention models that incorporated the concept of risk and protection in the early childhood period, the Foundation launched the $5.4 million Free To Grow model development initiative in partnership with the national Head Start program. In April, 2000, based upon the promising work of the initiative's first phase, the foundation's Board of Directors committed an additional $8 million to the current Free To Grow evaluation and program demonstration.

Robert Wood Johnson's commitment to Free To Grow also builds upon the Foundation's growing interest in the areas of family and community health. Recent grant making has sought to test comprehensive, cross-system strategies to strengthen family and community networks and to improve social connectedness. Foundation leadership hope that its current commitment to the Free To Grow evaluation and program demonstration will provide greater insight into a range of comprehensive preventive strategies that can be shown to be effective at reducing risks and enhancing protective factors in the families and communities of young children nationally.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
The U.S. Department of Justice, through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, (OJJDP) has provided $1.5 million to support the evaluation of the Free To Grow national demonstration program. This financial commitment reflects OJJDP's interest in supporting the identification of evidence-based practice in the field of substance abuse prevention. More information on OJJDP's funding in these areas can be found on their website at http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/


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.