By Danielle Marks
Women and Infant Health Program Manager, Wyoming Department of Health
Senior Epidemiology Advisor to MCH, Wyoming Department of Health
Principal Organizer, Building Communities Where Children and Families Thrive
In 2014, a coalition of Wyoming early childhood stakeholders initiated efforts to shift a focus on school readiness (Kindergarten/Pre-K) to broader, more integrated, community-based efforts. The new focus emphasized investment in the prenatal period and in early childhood relationships. The coalition envisioned a multisectoral, community-based partnership that addresses upstream determinants of health and building community prosperity. Their vision emphasizes the role of toxic stress, early relationships, poverty and the environment – where children and families live, work and play – on short- and long-term health outcomes for children, families, and communities. The challenge to the coalition was effectively communicating this vision with a broad range of nontraditional stakeholders that includes local business leaders, policymakers and civic leaders.
At the same time, the Wyoming maternal and child health (MCH) epidemiology program was calculating the AMCHP Life Course Indicators and realized that in order for these indicators to gain traction in the state, they needed to resonate with stakeholders. Soon after the start of the indicator project, the early childhood coalition asked for data to help them explain the shift in focus to their stakeholders.
As a precursor to the statewide summit, the coalition wrote a white paper detailing the need for the focus shift. The coalition leaders worked with MCH epidemiology staff to select relevant life course indicators for Wyoming. Starting with the AMCHP 'short list' of indicators, the list was narrowed to include indicators that most effectively supported the coalition's narrative. The selected life course indicators were:
- Adverse childhood experiences among children
- Experiences of discrimination among children
- Households with a high level of concentrated disadvantage
- Household food insecurity
- Prevalence of preterm births
- Stressors during pregnancy
In September 2014, the coalition presented the white paper to stakeholders at a summit, "Building Communities Where Children & Families Thrive: The Science of Early Childhood." According to Michelle Sullivan, principal organizer of the summit, "[the use of the indicators in the white paper] provided participants with common data and a narrative that emphasized the idea that community prosperity begins in infancy."
Although the summit targeted statewide stakeholders, a community-level coalition in Sheridan County emerged. As part of the AMCHP Life Course Intensive TA Project, MCH program and epidemiology staff worked with the coalition on further narrowing the indicators, framing a subset of the selected indicators, making them relevant at the local level, and developing a call to action for nontraditional stakeholders. We learned the importance of defining a target audience, crafting communication products to meet audience needs and expectations, and having a clear, succinct message.
The AMCHP project resulted in a presentation featuring a narrowed list of indicators that connect community prosperity and early childhood stress. The indicators (maternal stressors during pregnancy, adverse childhood experiences, and food insecurity) were estimated for Sheridan County to show the local impact of the problem. We felt this would resonate with nontraditional stakeholders, and spur action in a community that has relatively good early childhood outcomes when compared with the rest of the state, but still has room to improve. The presentation includes background information based on indicator narratives from the Life Course Indicators Online Tool and a 'call to action' section, which includes language suggested by the FrameWorks Institute Talking About Early Childhood Development toolkit.
Despite the end of the AMCHP project, the partnership between the Wyoming MCH program and the coalition continues. A finalized presentation will be given to the coalition and potential stakeholders. Additionally, Wyoming MCH is developing a life course website to feature the partnership and provide common language and life course data to help other communities and stakeholders effectively implement the life course framework in their work.