Children's Futures: Lessons From a Second-Generation Community Change Initiative

Since the experiences in a child's early years have a major impact on well-being and future success, Children's Futures (CF), a 10-year initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), developed a comprehensive, citywide program in Trenton, N.J. focusing on the critical time period of prenatal care to age three to ensure health and school readiness. Children's Futures is focused on improving health and development outcomes for children and their families by: Engaging community partners to help break down family isolation; building trust between and among residents; forming alliances with health care providers; promoting positive parenting through information, resources and programs; and, helping Trenton's most vulnerable citizens secure essential services.

This article explores the initiative's first five years, the available results and lessons learned.  Some early lessons include:

  • outlining strong cooperation and communication among partners in the initiative’s design;
  • balancing decision-making amongst participants, including funders, agencies and residents;
  • matching private foundation funds by public agencies before the beginning of the initiative;
  • assembling substantive expertise within the initiative to address challenges that arise from program creation and modification;
  • gathering systematic information for program planning and management; and
  • enabling the program to better address and respond to community needs by focusing on a specific population.