Two recent community conversations facilitated by the Every Child Thrives (ECT) collective impact effort sparked pledges from 30 organizations committing to advance their work to build a strong, resilient community.

Every Child Thrives initiatives are focused on building positive early childhood experiences that promote optimal brain development, laying a foundation for lifelong learning and health. ECT’s TalkReadPlay With Your Child Every Day campaign was developed based on knowledge that 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed in the first five years of life.

To date, 400 TalkReadPlay trusted messengers are working to support early attachment and regular parent/child interactions by equipping parents with tools to be their child’s first and most important teacher.

While focused on developing early positive experiences, ECT partners also recognize the effects that childhood adversity has on brain development.

Over the last year, nine ECT partners — the Watertown Unified, Dodgeland, Hustisford and Jefferson school districts; the Watertown Regional Medical Center, Watertown Police Department, Watertown Public Health, Jefferson County Human Services Department and Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation — participated in a national Trauma Informed, Resilience-Oriented Learning Community through the National Council for Behavioral Health.

Understanding the impact that adverse childhood experiences have on lifelong health, they learned how resilience can be built by promoting safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, empowerment and choice within their practices.

“Research shows that negative early experiences physically and negatively alter brain development, increasing the likelihood of defensive and concerning behaviors, learning difficulties and challenges building healthy relationships,” said Kathi Cauley, Jefferson County Human Services director. “The good news is that research also tells us that these effects can be mitigated by positive early experiences — especially healthy, supportive and sustained relationships.

“Knowing this, we recognized the opportunity to learn about ways we can use relationships to build resilience, and we believe it’s important to share this information with others,” she added.

At the November community conversations, ECT partners presented information to leaders from health and human service agencies, school districts, local government, the judicial system, law enforcement, libraries, health and dental care providers, the faith community and non-profits. They discussed how trauma-informed practices, relationships and protective factors, for example helping children to understand their feelings, support resiliency.

Stories of success were shared, including how schools use trauma-sensitive practices to reduce negative behaviors and improve student engagement and achievement.

The conversations inspired 30 organizations to sign pledges to strengthen their approaches to building resilience. They acknowledged understanding the correlation between trauma and resulting behavioral and health problems when it is unrecognized and unaddressed; and expressed a shared commitment to build protective factors that support a strong, resilient community in which children and families thrive.

Organizations made a specific commitment to advance their work, for example providing staff training to build awareness of trauma and protective factors.

“We are pleased to have such widespread support from our community in advancing work that will build positive relationships and experiences that support resilience,” said Sarah Sullivan, program officer for the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation, which provides backbone support for Every Child Thrives initiatives. “Other communities throughout the state are looking to us as leaders in securing commitments from multiple local organizations, all working together to ensure children and families thrive.”

Any agency, organization, school, church or business within Dodge and Jefferson counties is invited to pledge to strengthen their approach to building resilience. Organizations that pledge will become part of a local learning community, receiving support from dozens of Every Child Thrives partners on a shared journey to build resilience by strengthening positive protective factors.

For more information and to make a pledge, visit watertownhealthfoundation.com/everychildthrives/communityresilience.php.

Facilitated by the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation, Every Child Thrives is a partnership of more than 30 Dodge and Jefferson County agencies working to ensure all children thrive in health, learning and life.

For more information visit watertownhealthfoundation.com/everychildthrives.

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