Catherine McDowell. Photo by Cheryl Senter.

Catherine McDowell. Photo by Cheryl Senter.

Changing the world by helping children and families

Investing in the right health, mental health, educational and family supports for children is critical to success

By Catherine McDowell, Project Manager, Coös Coalition For Young Children and Families and Director, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation Board of Directors

I have spent most of my working life developing programs to improve the lives of families and children in the North Country. I began the first family planning clinic in Coös County, then expanded it to include prenatal and child health, thinking healthcare was the key. I then developed a preschool and after-school program, believing early education was critical. Finally, I championed the Family Resource Center because I believed that in-home visiting and family support could be the answer.

During all those years and very good programs, I knew that there must be a way to break the cycle of poverty and neglect and help children thrive, but I couldn’t quite find it.

I have come to realize that it includes all of the above — healthcare, mental health, early education and family support. Working together and focusing critical resources on children and their families early on is the key.

Five years ago, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund made a significant investment in early childhood development in Coös County. The Foundation believes that investing in the right health, mental health, educational and family support for developing children is critical to the success of those children, and of the North Country. That investment helped to establish the Coös Coalition for Young Children and Families.

The coalition supports the healthy development of the next generation. We know that positive early experiences and relationships shape the architecture of the developing brain, providing a sturdy foundation for all the learning and development to follow. This foundation can only be built through a coordinated effort across many disciplines. We have brought healthcare, mental health, early education and family support organizations together to provide our youngest children with the strongest foundation possible for their physical, cognitive, social and emotional development.

We are coordinating the use of evidence-based developmental screening tools, implementing research-based curricula in early care and education, providing research-based training to early childhood providers, supporting parents with tested parenting strategies, and collecting and tracking the results of all of this work.

There are 1,558 children aged 0 to 5 in Coös County — we could reach every child in Coös if we try. We have taken the first steps by coordinating our efforts and putting the focus on early childhood. Together, we can make sure that every child in Coös has the strongest foundation possible. Together, we really can change our world.

TO LEARN MORE, VISIT WWW.INVESTINCOOSKIDS.ORG

This story originally appeared in the Foundation’s 2014 Winter/2015 Spring Purpose Newsletter