Now Viewing: Child and Family Well-Being

How San Antonio, Texas, Fixed Its Broken Truancy System

Jul 17, 2019, 11:45 AM, Posted by John W. Bull

Bexar County once handled 36,000 truancy cases a year. Now students get one-on-one help to boost their attendance, and truancy cases have dwindled.

Texas was the last of two states—Wyoming being the other—that treated truancy as a crime. Students and their parents faced court fines, and if penalties went unpaid, teen truants could be cuffed by constables and sent to jail.

None of this made any sense to me when 10 years ago, as San Antonio’s presiding municipal judge, I inadvertently began the process of changing the system across the state.

I had heard from a friend who handled attendance in one of the largest of San Antonio’s 16 school districts. This assistant principal was concerned because truancy cases filed in January could not be heard by justices of the peace until October. At the time, Bexar County, which includes the city of San Antonio, handled about 36,000 truancy cases a year.

I wondered why we weren’t figuring out why students were not going to school—as opposed to just jamming them into the school-to-prison pipeline. Troubled by that question and knowing there was nothing to preclude a municipal judge from hearing truancy cases, I stepped in to work through the backlog with another judge. We processed 1,200 cases over three weeks.

I could immediately tell the system was definitely broken.

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Helping Dads Support Their Kids’ Health and Development

Jun 13, 2019, 1:00 PM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

Research shows that children and moms benefit when dads are actively engaged in their kids’ health and development. A new study examines barriers that make it difficult for some fathers to be involved and how to overcome them.

Dad holding his smiling daughter.

This Sunday, families around the country will celebrate Father’s Day and pay tribute to the special caregivers in their lives. It’s a time when I find myself feeling especially grateful for all the positive ways my own father has influenced my life and the crucial role my husband plays in raising our daughters.

I also think about the many dads I have been lucky enough to meet throughout my life. These are the special dads who are determined to make sure that all kids--both their own and others--have every opportunity to grow up healthy and happy.

One such father who stands out for me is Steve Spencer. I learned of Steve a couple of years ago when he represented his home state of Oregon at Zero to Three’s Strolling Thunder event. The event brings together parents from across the country to meet their Members of Congress and share what babies and families need to thrive. As a single dad raising two boys, Steve is a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for the kind of supportive services parents rely on to give their kids the healthiest start.

Steve put it best when he outlined the day-to-day realities of parenting, "It's really hard to put focus in trying to figure out a way to keep the apartment and get food in these kids' bellies and so on and so forth on top of taking care of him [his four-month-old son] and not sleeping."

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Tool Informs Medicaid’s Business Case for Investing in Prevention

Apr 11, 2019, 1:00 PM, Posted by Martha Davis

State Medicaid agencies and managed care organizations will now be able to estimate the health impact and health care cost savings of investing in childhood obesity prevention initiatives.

Children play on a school playground.

Today, nearly 50 percent of children—over 35.5 million—are enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. These programs are essential to low-income children, and particularly children of color, who are more likely to lack access to other forms of health coverage. Both programs have been providing medical care to kids for about half a century.

However, the treatment of chronic illness, special needs, and adverse birth outcomes often receive higher priority attention than preventive interventions. This is because treatment for medically complex conditions drives costs in the health care system. So it is where state Medicaid agencies, and the managed care organizations (MCOs) that help them control cost, utilization and quality, invest their time and energy.

With most of the focus on treatment, it’s often difficult to make the case for community-based, family-centered prevention. But some states have started to implement prevention activities addressing childhood obesity and other areas of health promotion and disease prevention.

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Supporting the Whole Learner in Every School

Feb 5, 2019, 2:00 PM, Posted by Jennifer Ng'andu

Social emotional development is key to every child’s education and paves a path to life-long health. A new report shares specific recommendations for research, practice and policy to promote all students’ social, emotional and academic development.

Students in a classroom.

Dr. James Comer is a pioneer. Decades before the science of learning and development caught up to him, he understood that all children need well-rounded developmental experiences in order to seize opportunities in life. His parents hailed from the deeply segregated South, but they helped him thrive in the era of Jim Crow, investing in his social and emotional well-being and providing safe, supportive, nurturing and demanding educational experiences.

Through that lived experience and Dr. Comer’s work as a physician and child psychiatrist, he understood that one of the most important ways to support children was to focus on where they spend a substantial part of their day: schools. He also understood that many children did not have opportunities to benefit from an environment that supported their well-being and their ability to have a full learning experience. He set out to change this through a remarkable model that has earned him the moniker “the godfather of social and emotional learning.”

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Healthier Communities Start With Kids

Dec 10, 2018, 11:30 AM, Posted by Joan Hunt, Sara Kendall

Focusing on our community’s youngest residents can spark broad vision and change.

A boy works on an art project at a local community center.

The small city of Hudson is nestled in Upstate New York and home to fewer than 7,000 people. The city was hit hard by deindustrialization in the late 20th century, facing economic decline as factories closed and industry jobs left. In recent years development has surged, with the opening of antique stores, restaurants and art galleries. The city has become a popular destination for tourists and second-home owners.

While our town is often celebrated as a story of revival, development has not benefited all of our community’s residents. For example, despite the presence of several high-end restaurants, there is still no grocery store. Rising costs have increased inequity, causing displacement for many families. Public funding is often directed toward maintaining Hudson as an attractive tourist destination versus addressing the needs of local youth and families.

Our organizations here in Hudson, Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood and Kite’s Nest, have been working in partnership with many community organizations and individuals to improve conditions for youth and families.

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How Supportive Housing Uplifts Families in Crisis

Oct 15, 2018, 11:00 AM, Posted by Kerry Anne McGeary

Irma’s troubled life culminated in being thrown down the stairs when she was six months pregnant. Thanks to a program that’s addressing system-wide change, Irma and her family are now safe and secure with a new home and a brighter future. 

Supportive Housing program case worker, Melissa Rowe (right) with her client Irma and three of Irma's four children. Supportive Housing program case worker, Melissa Rowe (in white shirt) with her client Irma and three of Irma's four children: Joel, age 5, Delicia, age 3 and Julio, age 18 months.

Editor’s Note: Although foster care placement is sometimes necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of children, research indicates that keeping families together is generally better for children, parents, and the community. Working with the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched the Keeping Families Together (KFT) pilot in 2007 to explore whether supportive housing can help vulnerable families grow stronger, safer and healthier so that children—and their parents—may thrive. With the release of new findings from a federal demonstration project inspired by KFT, we are resurfacing this post.  

From too early an age, Irma faced a seemingly endless series of traumatic events that life threw at her as best she could—on her own.

But after a domestic crisis left her hospitalized, homeless, jobless, and in danger of losing her infant son, Irma finally received help from a supportive housing program that changed her life.

Keeping Families Together—the RWJF-supported model for the program that helped Irma turn her life around—has become my own personal touchstone for what building a Culture of Health should look like in the real world.

Irma’s story illustrates both the power of this model and the inner resilience that so many struggling families possess.

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How Collaboration Fosters Safer Communities for Kids

Oct 3, 2018, 11:00 AM, Posted by Martha Davis

Collaborative approaches can help ensure kids grow up with a solid foundation of safety and with a support system for those who are affected by violence.

Graphic depicting child playing with blocks

As the executive director of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility in the late 1990s, I worked closely with the local police department, the Women’s Law Project, and the district attorney. At the time, these forward-thinking professionals were frustrated. They were arresting the second and third generation of families involved in the criminal justice system. I knew some of these same individuals, and their histories as survivors of childhood trauma.

We were witnessing the downstream effects of unaddressed trauma in early childhood. Children who grew up traumatized landed in the juvenile justice system first and eventually within the criminal justice system as adults.

As a result, we knew we needed to find ways of building communities that would better support young children. Could we invest more upstream, in early childhood education, for example, and in doing so help prevent violence in our communities in the long-term?

Thanks to innovators like these and reams of new research on how early trauma and later violence affect individuals over a life course, we now understand that community conditions that impede children’s healthy development can impact everyone’s safety down the line.

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How Can We Help Kids and Families Eat Healthier?

Jun 6, 2018, 10:00 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel, Tina Kauh

A $2.6 million funding opportunity for researchers studying how to improve children’s development through healthy foods and beverages.

A mother and daughter sit together while enjoying watermelon.

When our kids were around 5 months old, we knew it was time to begin nourishing them with more than breastmilk or formula. But the thought of where or how to begin was overwhelming to us first-time moms. We also understand that establishing healthy eating patterns in early childhood sets a foundation for sound dietary habits later in life. This is why we are sharing a funding opportunity for researchers who can help us better understand what and how our kids should be eating.

We have firsthand knowledge of how crucial the right nutrition information is. Despite seeking tips from pediatricians, friends and countless books and websites, we had no idea what to feed our babies. In addition, while options at the supermarket were endless, there wasn’t enough clear, objective information to help us make an informed decision about what to choose and why. (Ironically, the dog food aisle offered a wealth of thorough guidance on how to keep a dog’s coat shiny and her bones strong.)

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Lifting the Weight of Incarceration

May 3, 2018, 3:00 PM, Posted by Michael Matza

If your organization is creating a healthier community through sport, learn about the RWJF Sports Award. InnerCityWeightlifting, a 2016 Sports Award Winner, helps at-risk youth and former inmates restore their standing in society.

InnerCity Weightlifting

An hour before his next client is due, Edgardo “Chino” Ortiz is in the glass-walled break room of InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW) in Cambridge, Mass., poring over a study guide to become certified as a personal trainer. Fiercely focused on achieving that goal, he is rarely separated from his worksheets.

“Prescribe RICE,” he says, circling the acronym for “rest, ice, compression and elevation” on a sample quiz question about injury.

All across America, men and women with similar ambitions are prepping for careers in physical fitness. But few share the unique drive that fuels 33-year-old Chino’s determination. For him, getting certified as a fitness trainer is a life-changing turning point, built on his smarts, his talent, and his grit.

Chino recently completed a sentence of five years in a Massachusetts state prison for shooting a man in the leg over drugs. For most former inmates, finding a good job is notoriously difficult. But Chino’s future looks promising because of his connection to ICW. 

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Three Reasons to Consider Later School Start Times

Feb 8, 2018, 2:00 PM, Posted by Tracy Costigan, Tracy Orleans

Research suggests more sleep for teens could yield significant health and academic benefits. To achieve these benefits, schools across the nation are experimenting with later start times for middle and high schools.

Student overwhelmed with homework.

“I fell asleep on the bus and usually wasn’t really awake until after first period ended,” says Andrew Schatzman, whose school day in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County ("Fairfax") used to begin with a 6:30 a.m. pickup time. When district leaders moved the high school start time to 8:10 a.m., it made a big difference in his life. “He’s still a teenager, so nothing is easy, but now he’s ready to go,” says Andrew’s mom, Liz. “I’m awake enough to do what I have to do in first period,” adds Andrew.

Thanks to this change Andrew starts the school day rested and ready to learn, but millions of U.S. students do not share that experience.

Nearly half (46%) of the U.S. high schools that begin classes before 8 a.m. are filled with teenagers who have not received the 8+ hours of sleep that young people need. As adolescent brains develop, sleep patterns change. It’s a normal, natural occurring physiological milestone. Sleep researchers call it the development of an evening-type circadian phase preference. The rest of us call it becoming a night owl.

Regardless of the terminology, the result is the same: teenagers stay up late. They do not fall asleep sooner if school starts earlier. Instead, they get sleep-deprived.

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