Project Child Success

What if every child grew up within nurturing relationships and environments?

Photo of Susan Barbeau
4 22

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

In 2006, the economist James Heckman wrote an article. It was a simple idea: invest in early learning. Heckman showed that supporting our youngest learners can improve high school graduation, reduce crime, and has a high return on investment. While not everyone was paying attention, leaders in Pierce County, Washington were. We wondered, could this be a silver bullet? In 2008, over 20 leaders rallied to support early learning and improve kindergarten readiness. We knew collaboration was key. Together, we invested and created programs. We reached some kids – but not all. Each month, we gathered to discuss progress and slowly more partners joined. By 2014, 40 + organizations participated. Then, after 6 years we asked a tough question – had anything really changed? Was collaboration improving the lives of 60,000 + kids under the age of 6 in Pierce County? The truth – we didn’t know. While some kids were better off, it was not universal. Collaboration was not good enough. Instead, we needed system change. Culture change. Community change. We needed to focus on a multigenerational approach to child well-being, based in science and research, not just kindergarten readiness. So we shifted. Today, over 80 + organizations and individuals are part of Project Child Success. Partners are committed to cultivating community action that strengthens Pierce County families. Our vision is that all children thrive in nurturing relationships and environments.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Washington

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Washington

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Pierce County, WA

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Simply put, the problem is that not ALL children have nurturing relationships and environments. There’s a critical window that can ensure healthy development. Research shows that the brain grows most during the first five years of life. Compassionate, loving relationships and healthy nurturing environments are critical. If all kids had these, children and families would be thriving. Instead, many children suffer from toxic stress. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) like physical abuse, neglect, substance abuse and mental illness, among other things, can disrupt healthy development. Traumatic stress during early childhood can have a lasting impact on well-being throughout one’s lifetime. And if children suffer, we all suffer. Our community’s long term success depends on our children’s success. That’s why we are working together to change the story for children and families.

The answer to our problem sounds simple, ensure ALL children have nurturing relationships and environments. And yet, it’s quite complicated. There are many reasons children are not well. Poverty. Crime. Inadequate child care. Inequitable policies. ACEs. And on, and on, and on. Luckily, research shows that certain traits can help mitigate risk, regardless of circumstances. These five features, known as protective factors, include: knowledge of child development, concrete supports in times of need, developing social connections, building resilience, and fostering social emotional development in young children.

Project Child Success has chosen to use these protective factors as a theory of change. If we strengthen these characteristics in families, organizations, and communities – children will thrive. But this solution will only work if everyone participates. Schools, healthcare, criminal justice, libraries, non-profits, businesses, parents, governments, childcare, media, civic leaders…EVERYONE. Our entire community must commit to changing policies and practices. Over 80 partners have signed on. Together we are cultivating community action that strengthens Pierce County families.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • LGBTQ or non-binary individuals
  • Religious minorities (non-Christian)
  • Low-income communities
  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Project Child Success is a cross sector collaboration. Over 80 organizations are involved.

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Community change is a big task that requires strong, consistent leadership. First 5 FUNdamentals (F5F) is the non-profit organization that provides staffing, communication, and data support for Project Child Success. F5F’s goal is to make engagement in Project Child Success meaningful and easy. There are many ways to participate. Whether it’s contributing on an action team, leading on the steering committee, joining a partnership meeting, or attending trainings and events, we want individuals and organizations to be inspired and involved. Engaging with our solution means standing alongside 80+ partners who are taking action.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We began in 2008 with 20 partners. In 2015, we had 80 + committed which shows that a diverse cross section of society is deeply engaged. In 2015, partners dedicated nearly 2,500 hours to Project Child Success. That’s over $75,000 in donated staff time! Examples of shared activities include hosting cross sector trainings on ACEs and the protective factors, working with our local TV station on a public awareness campaign, holding community conversations with families, and advocating policy makers. In the coming years, Project Child Success will continue to engage the community around building the protective factors. We know children thrive in nurturing relationships and environments. It’s up to us to make this vision a reality.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

First 5 FUNdamentals (F5F) is the dedicated organization providing backbone support for Project Child Success. As an independent non-profit, F5F has the responsibility to ensure financial stability for the movement. Funding sources are diverse and include individual donations, corporation support, grants, and government contracts. For eight years, F5F has successfully filled this role and will continue to do so with the integrity.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Collaboration is not a new idea. Today, many communities label their efforts collective impact. We too follow these principles. But, what makes Project Child Success stand out is a strong understanding of systems change. Collective impact is not a solution. It is a way to organize. Real change requires dedicated staff and resources. F5F brings unique value. Staff are trained in system thinking, facilitation, data research, communication, and policy development. While many organizations are working to improve child outcomes, F5F aims to navigate sector silos and build community vision.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

When Project Child Success partners were asked “In 10 years, what do you hope has changed for children and families?” responses included aspirations such as: 5 protective factors universally present; multi-generational cycle of success; environments that support learning, joy, wonder and growth for all; and a community that is watchful and supportive. A crucial shift is the change in mindset. Our community’s dedication to the protective factors has the potential to create needed change. Together we can build a society that wholeheartedly supports children and family well-being.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email
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Team (2)

Susan's profile
Jennifer's profile
Jennifer Nakata

Role added on team:

"Jenny Nakata is the Collective Impact Manager for First 5 FUNdamentals. Her primary role is to help implement Project Child Success. She has a background in international education, community health, and social work and is passionate about relationship based community building. Jenny holds a degree in Neuroscience from the University of Southern California and a dual Masters degrees in Social Welfare and Public Health from UC Berkley."

Attachments (1)

PCS_State of ChildrenFamiliesFINAL.pdf

The purpose of this report is to better understand the current state of children and families in our community. In the following pages you will find Pierce County specific data and stories about what life is like for children and families.


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Photo of Ilta Paavolainen

I really like your project about child success

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