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Setting Up Kids for Success in Grand and Summit Counties

Photo by David Cornwell

By Courtney Ricci, PhD

We are proud to share that the Rural Resort Region Northeast Early Childhood Council is the recipient of the 2015 John R. Moran, Jr. Grantee Leadership Award, and a $25,000 grant from The Colorado Trust.

Rural Resort Region Northeast (RRR-NE) represents a formalized partnership between Early Childhood Options and Grand Beginnings, which serve Summit and Grand counties respectively. The organizations joined together in 2006 to become part of a statewide system of 31 Early Childhood Councils across Colorado. The mission of these councils is to build the capacity of local communities to increase the quality, accessibility and equity of comprehensive early childhood services for children and families.

Early life experiences significantly impact brain development and predict health status later in life, studies show. Infants and toddlers need safe, stable and stimulating environments to thrive, and yet many babies enter life facing adversities that can have cumulative and long-term consequences. By the time children enter kindergarten, a significant achievement gap exists between low-income or minority children as compared to higher income or non-minority children. This gap tends to widen over time.

As a Colorado Trust Early Childhood Health Integration (ECHI) grantee, RRR-NE invests in these impressionable years, working across four domains—early learning; family support and parent education; social, emotional and mental health; and overall health—to ensure that “all children are valued, healthy, and thriving.” RRR-NE brings together key community partners to work together to meet the needs of the whole child.

During the ECHI funding period, RRR-NE intentionally integrated health, mental health and social emotional health into the work of their organization and communities. Their many achievements include:

  • Collaboratively designing and implementing a community-wide plan for standardized developmental screening, referral and follow-up to help connect children and families to early childhood services that they need;
  • Creating an electronic app to reach more families in Grand County and electronically track child development. The app connects screening results with health care and early child care providers, and suggests activities based on the child’s age and screening results;
  • Integrating oral health screenings into early childhood programs, organizations and schools in the community, and supporting community entities to take ownership of this process;
  • Increasing the capacity of early childhood professionals and providers in the community to support the social-emotional and mental health of young children and deal with challenging behaviors;
  • Working to integrate physical, oral, social-emotional and mental health into all aspects of early childhood, and break down silos within the system to ensure that Grand and Summit county children can get the services they need, at the right time and in the right place.

Systems-building is difficult and important work. Throughout the course of the ECHI efforts, RRR-NE demonstrated deep understanding of the ways that health impacts and is impacted by early experiences; a steadfast commitment to the early childhood years; and creative, innovative ways to collaborate with new partners to improve local systems. RRR-NE Health Integration Coordinator Katy Lois says that this type of “systems thinking” has become so engrained and such an integral part of the council’s culture and operating processes that “it is now just what we do.”

For more on the council and Moran Award, please read the accompanying news release.

Learn about the health equity issues affecting Coloradans at Collective Colorado, a publication of The Colorado Trust.