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Building Adult Capabilities to Improve Child Outcomes: A Theory of Change

Building Adult Capabilities to Improve Child Outcomes: A Theory of Change

The social challenges that face modern societies, whether it’s the ability to work productively, to be a good citizen, stay healthy, have their roots in early health and development. A strong foundation in early childhood results in much better and more effective development later. A weak foundation really puts us behind. The most important thing children need to thrive is to live in an environment of relationships that begins in their family but also extends out to include adults who aren’t family members, in child care centers and other programs. What children need is for that entire
environment of relationships to be invested in their healthy development. We’ve shown from decades of testing interventions that we can improve outcomes. But the magnitude of those impacts is not good enough. Science is now available to help us
think about what we might do that would have a bigger impact than the
best of what we’ve done before. So we began to ask: what could we be doing differently? What could we do to be smarter? Children who are at the greatest risk for the poorest outcomes in learning and health and behavior are children who experience a pile up, a cumulative burden of one after another after another of risk factors. And then the burden is more than any child
could be expected to overcome. So we began to focus on the development of the adults. What could we be doing to strengthen the
capacity of everyone who interacts with children? This led us to think about the kinds of skills you
need to deal with adversity. These skills of focusing attention, planning,
monitoring, delaying gratification being able to solve problems, being
able to work in teams, executive function and self-regulation. They’re also the kind of skills you need to
create a well-regulated home and school environment in which healthy development and learning can take place. And then brain science started to tell us that differences in those skills start to develop in infancy based on the environment kids live in. So how do those skills get built? If you don’t
develop them early, how do you develop them later? Actually, you can build them later because the period of flexibility and plasticity of this part of the brain doesn’t fully mature until age 25 to 30. So then the light bulb went on. The reason we’re not getting a bigger impact is not because we don’t know about how to influence development but because we’re giving information and advice to people who we need to do active skill building with, skill building by coaching,
by training, by practice, but we’re not doing that. So we now have developed this theory of change that says we need to focus on the development of the adults who are important in kids’ lives. We need to focus on their skills, their needs in order for them to be better, more effective parents, in order for them to be better prepared to be employable which would enhance the economic stability of the family which is also good for children. Second of all, we looked at many people in preschool programs and child care centers and we said, what are we doing to build those
skills in the providers? They need skill building as well. And also, the community can help to build and
reinforce the capacities that parents need. And the community also includes programs in which people who work in the programs have sufficient skills. Third of all, what are the major sources of toxic
stress in this community and how can we reduce them? Moving it up to a policy level, how are our policies strengthening communities’ abilities to reduce sources
of toxic stress and caregivers abilities to provide what kids need? The development of our human capital is our future. The development of a productive workforce is our future. The development of a healthy population is our future. This kind of future orientation is critical for a healthy
society. It’s critical for a thriving business. It’s critical for a successful environment of
relationships to raise children. It’s all about being able to plan for the future,
to have a future. That’s why this is so important.

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