Shirley Ritter directs Kids First, an early childhood resource center serving Pitkin County. Read her reflection on promoting local collaboration for preventive efforts and how Kids First used Early Childhood Shared Messaging as a tool to support these efforts.
by Shirley Ritter, Kids First in Pitkin County
“We live in such a beautiful place. Look at the blue sky, the aspen trees, the mountains, even the babbling rivers; what could possibly be stressful about living here?”
This is often the first response I get from community members when I begin a conversation about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or toxic stress. No matter where you live, we know that young children are at risk for stress, triggered by multiple sources, that can have life-long consequences. We also know that with supportive, responsive relationships, these effects can be prevented.
I’d thought about this issue, and worked with other local agencies to plan for prevention programs for children and families; our agency also provides family education based on “emotion coaching” and the work of John Gottman. It still felt like this issue was not getting the attention it deserved. When I heard about the efforts of the Early Childhood Colorado Partnership (ECCP) to share common messaging across the state, that partners have been working on positive and effective messages, and that there was a mini-grant available, I was sold.
We used the mini-grant funds to pay for a graphic artist who used beautiful pictures of children incorporated into the shared messages developed by ECCP and stakeholders, who by the way know a considerable amount more about this topic than do I! The shared messaging having to do with children who thrive, about prosperity, and about resilience really resonates with families. I am writing this in the hope others might be inspired by have done in other communities; that we will all approach families in a way that shows we understand. Toxic stress is described as prolonged adversity, such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. In addition to the ECCP, there is a wealth of information at Center for the Developing Child at Harvard to help you understand and convey important information about what children need to thrive.
Our next steps included adding a page to our website with basic information, local resources, and websites with helpful information for families. We used the materials we developed on social media, local newspaper advertising, and on our website.
I asked our local partners that serve children, youth and families to link to our webpage and share our message on their social media. There seems to heightened awareness lately for prevention programs, but not everyone knows just how young that starts, or exactly what that could look like. I am a big believer in collaboration, and this effort has reinforced that for me, and given us all so many ways to paint the picture of what it looks like for kids to thrive in our communities, and our state! Let me know what you’ve found to be successful so we can continue to share in this success.
Reach out to Shirley at firstname.lastname@example.org