Free to Grow

In 1992, RWJF launched a wide-ranging anti-drug-and-alcohol experiment in partnership called Free to Grow: Head Start Partnerships to Promote Substance-Free Communities. Rather than provide direct services to children in Head Start programs, Free to Grow brings together broad-based community partners in efforts to strengthen families and communities, thereby addressing the at-risk child's overall environment early on. From six pilot studies the partnership grew to encompass 15 demonstration sites. This chapter examines three examples of Free to Grow programs, highlighting successful strategies that aim at organizing residents to survey neighborhood needs, building leadership skills and fostering partnerships among existing local agencies. A poignant example of Free to Grow's impact is seen in the consistent and impressive improvement in academic scores in a Kentucky elementary school attended mostly by poor children from drug-ridden neighborhoods. Questions remain about the effectiveness of specific Free to Grow interventions and how to evaluate their impact. The author also suggests that Head Start agencies, which often scramble to sustain core services, may not be the best vehicle for such a wide-ranging social project. The program might find another platform for its family-and-community strengthening strategies in the future.

Recommended Reading

  • Evaluation of the Free to Grow Initiative: Head Start Partnerships to Promote Substance-Free Communities 
  • Executive Summary: Protecting Children from Substance Abuse
  • Protecting Children from Substance Abuse: Lessons from Free to Grow Head Start Partnerships 
  • Free to Grow Special Report: New Britain, Connecticut
  • Free to Grow Special Report: Wausau, Wisconsin
  • Free to Grow Special Report: St. Mary, Louisiana 
  • Free to Grow Special Report: Barre, Vermont
  • Kentucky Free to Grow Project Improves Outcomes for Families and Empowers Residents to Form Community Policing Program