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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.
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Community Partnership for Child Development

Community Partnership for Child Development

This model, developed in Colorado Springs, Colorado, builds upon the Head Start program's Family Advocates and Policy Council components, utilizing Neighborhood Family Advocates to create a continuum of care for pre- and post Head Start families with children ages 0-8 by building linkages with agencies serving families with children ages 0-3, as well as local schools in order to track and transition those families most in need of support. Advocates also facilitate Neighborhood Family Councils, organized around local schools and community centers, and made up of residents and community leaders, who work together to carry out prevention focused activities that strengthen the overall health of the neighborhoods they serve.  A formal referral partnership with the local Department of Health substance abuse treatment program provides innovative approaches to community and home-based treatment for identified families experiencing substance abuse related problems.

Core Strategies

Extending the Reach of the Head Start Program

Before the initiation of Early Head Start, most Head Start programs served families for a relatively short period of time during the period that their children were 3-4 years old.  Yet research and practice tell us that for those families at highest risk and thus, for those who should be targeted for preventive interventions, outreach and engagement should start as early as possible, and should extend over a longer period of time.  Moreover, these families should be able to access support not only within the walls of the agency, but within their neighborhoods and communities.   It was with these concepts in mind that the Community Partnership for Child Development's Free To Grow model was created.  Its components build upon and expand the traditional roles of Head Start Family Advocates and Policy Councils to extend the reach of the program by building partnerships and linkages to serve the larger community of families as well as to provide vehicles for implementing a community-focused prevention agenda designed to improve the overall health of the neighborhood in which young children grow and develop.

Establishing A Continuum of Care for Families of Children Ages 0-8

For high-risk families, times of transition often lead to a disruption of support and engagement.  A family receiving the assistance of a home visiting program just after a baby is born may "age out" of its eligibility guidelines even though support is still needed.  A family engaged in a strong relationship with a Head Start social service worker may find no similar support within the school environment after their child leaves Head Start and moves on to kindergarten.  To ease these transition periods, and to ensure that families in need of support don't fall through the cracks as they move from one system to another, the Colorado model seeks to establish a continuum of care for families with children ages 0-8 living within the targeted community.  The strategy brings together a diverse group of community partners health and child care providers, entitlement workers, social service agencies, school support teams, community center workers as well as Head Start family service staff who work together to build the continuum, and to make sure that families stay connected as they leave one system and move in to others.  Neighborhood Family Advocates, modeled on the traditional Head Start Family Advocate position, work out of neighborhood schools and community centers to broker these transitions conducting outreach to identify pre-Head Start families, providing resource and referral, as well as limited case management services to families in need, and working with Head Start transition staff to establish linkages to school support teams and other neighborhood social services for families whose children are leaving the Head Start program.

Building a Neighborhood Focus

Moving outside of the walls of the agency and into the neighborhood is a critical component of this model's approach.  As noted above, Neighborhood Family Advocates (NFA) work directly in the community, rather than in the social service offices of the Head Start program, providing easy access for pre- and post- Head Start families, as well as for other residents of the neighborhood.  In the original program site, NFAs worked out of a local community center, as well as partnering schools, strengthening the collaborative relationships with these agencies.  This neighborhood focus also serves to build a presence for the project within the target neighborhoods in which Neighborhood Family Councils will be established. (See below.)  As facilitators for these Councils, this neighborhood focus is critical for allowing NFAs to get to know the pulse of the neighborhood, as well as for providing space in which community-based projects can be carried out. 

Establishing Linkages to Support Treatment

For young children, growing up in an environment where a family member abuses alcohol or drugs constitutes one of the key risks for later substance use or abuse.  Yet, seeking treatment is often difficult both because of access, as well as due to the stigma and denial often attached to substance abuse problems.  In order to address these issues, the Colorado model establishes linkages with a local Department of Health (DOH) operated substance abuse treatment facility to provide dedicated services to Head Start and other target neighborhood families.  A Family Counselor, hired by the DOH treatment agency, but working in collaboration with the Head Start program, provides immediate access to treatment services.  Moreover, to facilitate participation, the Counselor has broad flexibility regarding the structure of treatment meeting families in their homes, or in the local community center, rather than requiring that they come into the treatment center's offices for sessions.  By establishing Standard Service Agreements between the treatment facility and Head Start social services team, the Family Counselor is also able to call upon Neighborhood Family Advocates to provide follow-up support to families completing treatment. 

The Family Counselor also plays an important role in conducting outreach to neighborhood families as well as in providing training to Head Start staff in recognizing potential substance abuse problems among the families with whom they work.  Through informal discussions and educational sessions with staff and families, the approach seeks to break down the resistance to treatment, and to provide multiple opportunities for individuals in need to be encouraged to take the first step toward entering treatment.

Establishing Neighborhood Family Councils

Patterned on Head Start Policy Councils, but incorporating the neighborhood focus of Free To Grow's approach, Neighborhood Family Councils are established in each target neighborhood.  These Councils, made up of residents, school and community center leadership, Head Start staff and representatives of other community-based organizations, are designed to be catalysts for positive neighborhood action in support of a primary prevention agenda.  NFAs help to recruit members, support council activities, and serve as liaisons to local agencies and community leadership.  The NFAs also assist in leadership development, outreach and community assessment activities designed to support the group's functioning.   The Councils are also designed to build stronger relationships between the schools and community residents, to increase awareness of the needs of families with young children, and to help residents build the relationships needed to leverage support for programs and systems designed to reduce community risk factors and strengthen community protective factors for substance abuse and other high risk behaviors.  In the original program site, councils focused on issues such as expanding structured after-school activities for latchkey children, expanding neighborhood watch programs, reducing neighborhood graffiti, and restoring a local park that had become a haven for underage drinking and drug dealing. 

Creating Mechanisms for Residents to Work with Community Leadership on Prevention Priorities

The Neighborhood Family Councils provide an important vehicle for providing residents with the opportunity to work with community leadership on local prevention priorities.  Yet, in most circumstances, a community's most critical power brokers are unlikely to attend neighborhood meetings on an ongoing basis.  To provide access to the broader power structure within the community, an Agency Advisory Committee, made up of the leadership of critical community-based agencies, as well as municipal officials, operates under the direction of Head Start leadership.  This Advisory Group meets bi-monthly.  Agency leadership utilize this Advisory Committee to broker power on behalf of Neighborhood Family Council projects, as well as to identify broader policy changes that could improve the health and well-being of young children and their families within the larger community.


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.