Smart Start Program is Positive Beginning to Improving Child Health Care in Michigan

Few towns in America have had a tougher time in recent years than Flint, Mich., where profound changes in the auto industry left a once-thriving community with staggering unemployment. In this environment, the Smart Start program is building on the hidden strengths of families and neighborhoods to improve the health of Flint's children.

While most health and social services programs begin with financial screening procedures that force a family to prove how badly it needs help, Smart Start avoids procedures that label clients as dysfunctional or disadvantaged. Instead, Smart Start services begin with a "strengths assessment," emphasizing those characteristics the family already possesses that could help parents succeed in making a better life for their children. Building on that foundation, Smart Start works with the families through the elementary schools where their children attend classes, offering a wide array of support services for the whole family.

Developing and implementing the Smart Start project provided invaluable insights into how diverse community partners can collaborate on behalf of children and families. It also taught us the difficulties and complexities in enacting system changes."—Dorothy Reynolds, President, Community Foundation of Greater Flint