Healthy development for every child

At City Connects, healthy childhood development is a rich mosaic.

We don’t just look at children’s health or grades. Instead, drawing on decades of scientific research, we look at four domains and what we call the four C’s

“Research tells us that development isn’t linear – and that development in one area depends on development in multiple other areas,” Claire Foley, City Connects’ Associate Director, explains. 

Foley points to the foundational childhood development research of Urie Bronfenbrenner and Pamela Morris as well as work being done by Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child and other researchers. Building on this scientific base, the City Connects model looks at how each child is developing across four domains: academic, social/emotional, physical health, and family. 

But we don’t stop there. 

“In addition to the four domains, we have broader principles that translate scientific insights into practice. We call them the four C’s, meaning we promote healthy child development by providing services that are comprehensive, customized, coordinated, and continuous,” Foley says. 

• Our comprehensive approach covers the diverse parts of children’s lives, ensuring that we are supporting their healthy development within and across all domains. 

Customization of services means we tailor sets of services and opportunities to each individual child, ensuring they get the right supports at the right time. 

Coordination between family, school, and community helps ensure that the right services are not just promised, but delivered.

• And our continuous approach provides support over time to keep children thriving. Continuity is essential, Foley says, because while it’s impossible to predict what events might occur in a child’s life, it is possible to respond to them with consistency and care. 

“We actually have scientific evidence of what happens to the developing brain when children have adverse experiences early in life. And we’ve learned from some of that research, how essential it is to intervene early in a supportive way.”

What this mosaic approach looks like in a school building is a City Connects coordinator who is able to see students in high definition – from grades and family dynamics to friends and personal interests. It’s a view of strengths and needs that includes daily life as well as outcomes over time. Coordinators can see, for example, which students might benefit from having a mentor and which ones should be referred for mental health counseling. 

Consider Brayden, a fifth grader featured in our 2018 Progress Report. A whole class review revealed that Brayden enjoyed school, but had reading challenges; he had good intentions, but struggled with transitions; was very active but had challenges with sleep and taking medications; and had involved parents, but the family struggled with homelessness. To meet these specific needs, Brayden received fifteen services and enrichment opportunities including field trips, medical services, and family support. 

Taking this multifaceted approach is crucial. 

“Through the City Connect model, we know that what appears to be a behavioral issue may in fact have an underlying health component; because when we address the health need, we see a student’s behavior get better,” Foley notes. 

 “Or maybe what we see as an academic need is, in fact, a social-emotional need. And once we provide a certain type of social-emotional support — which doesn’t necessarily have to be intensive, it could be a leadership opportunity for a student who isn’t focusing on academics — all of a sudden we see academic improvement.”

As both City Connects and the research on childhood development grow, we’re asking more questions about the City Connects model. 

“One is, ‘Does systemic, comprehensive student support increase the effectiveness of already-effective interventions that are in schools?’ Foley says. “In other words, are these interventions even more effective when they’re implemented in the context of comprehensive student support?” For example, is an academic intervention more powerful when a student is also building self-confidence through an after school sports program as well as serving as a reading buddy with a younger student and receiving needed clothing and school supplies? 

“Our evaluation team is also thinking about how prevention ties in with healthy childhood development.” Theoretically, City Connects may not only be addressing students’ problems when they arise, but may also be proactively providing supportive relationships, care, and dignity that support resilience in the face of challenges. The approach leads to long-term positive effects.

“That’s the benefit of City Connects,” Foley says, “it creates an opportunity to take a systemic, thorough look at the development of every single child in a school.” And it makes a difference.

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