Healthy Foundations for Future Families

What if every child had a healthy beginning in life with parents who are prepared to provide, protect, and nurture?

Photo of Randi Rubenstein
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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.

My personal journey to founding our nonprofit Education for Successful Parenting (ESP) began after a startling experience as an afterschool volunteer at an elementary school. One of my third-grade students, confiding his fear and shame amid streaming tears, revealed his hidden bruises from a parent’s blows. He looked to me for help. As I worked with his family, the school, and Social Services, I decided to become a foster parent. When I brought my first foster child home, the enormity of the responsibilities came as much of a challenge to me as it does for most parents. Fortunately, I had the benefit of parenting classes, which were required before becoming licensed as a foster parent. I was surprised to learn so much about children’s needs, and effective ways to respond and encourage their growth. Within a few years, my home was filled to capacity with foster children. I became acutely aware of the many children in need and how difficult it is to repair families that are weak from their foundation. Motivated to address these profound problems, I realized the only effective solution would be a preventive one – educating teens how to form healthy families from the start. Drawing upon my academic background and work experience in public health, I began to consult with local teachers and I designed the Healthy Foundations for Future Families program. I then left the corporate world to found ESP and devote my time to this important endeavor.

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]

  • North Carolina

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


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

  • North Carolina

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

Raleigh NC, Wake Forest NC

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

It is a sad fact that many people enter into parenting insufficiently prepared to care for their children. Every year, child abuse and neglect are reported to Child Protective Services on behalf of six million U.S. children. Almost one-fifth of the U.S population are estimated to have experienced 3 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) which includes physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, and family challenges (such as substance abuse and divorce). Why is this important? Family experiences profoundly affect children’s wellbeing. Research has shown strong correlations between ACEs and impaired wellbeing during childhood and even decades later in adulthood. Because the origin of many ACEs intersect in the decision-making of adolescents, our program focuses on pre-parenting education of adolescents as the lever for improving children’s wellbeing.

The Healthy Foundations for Future Families program is improving children’s wellbeing through pre-parenting education of teens before they conceive our next generation of children.   

Long before a child is conceived, adolescent choices and behaviors can set the stage for an emerging family.  The Healthy Foundations program guides teens to consider personal qualities for healthy relationships, and for responsible and caring co-parenting.   Teens also explore the effect of unintended pregnancies and teen parenting on everyone involved, especially the children.  Common adolescent health risks (e.g., alcohol, drugs, tobacco, poor nutrition, promiscuity) are studied for their potential impact on a future pregnancy, family dynamics, and the lifetime wellbeing of their future children.  By delving into topics relevant to teens’ daily lives, teens gain vital understanding of how their current behaviors are shaping the trajectory for their future family. 

Conducting the Healthy Foundations program in high school health education classrooms has been an efficient way to reach a broad population in a setting that is conducive to learning and in a timely way.  Because the program is a science-based curriculum that correlates with Essential Standards for Secondary School Health Education it has been well-received by teachers and easily integrated into classrooms.

The Healthy Foundations program is focused on improving knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that will enable teens to make healthy choices and prior to creating a family. Designed as a strength-based program, Healthy Foundations not only seeks to prevent ACEs and factors that contribute to child maltreatment, it also enhances factors that optimize child well-being.

The long-term goal is to improve adult capacities for parenting through:

  • Self-sufficiency
  • Strong family structure
  • Social health
  • Physical and mental health
  • Parenting and child development awareness.

And the desired long-term outcomes are to improve children’s well-being by optimizing preconception and prenatal health, and equipping future parents to meet their children’s post-natal needs as defined by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physical, safety, belonging and self-esteem needs.

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

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education

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.

Teens in health education classes participate in the Healthy Foundations program for 3+ hours of guided learning. The program has 4 modules; each includes discussion, slides, videos, role play, and “My Life-Plan for Parenting” workbooks. In the “Dream of Family” module, teens envision bright futures and chart a course to their goals. The “Forming a Family” module addresses healthy relationships, preconception health, and unplanned parenting. In the module “Meeting a Child’s Needs,” teens build knowledge and skills for three key parenting responsibilities: Provide, Protect, and Nurture. In the “Managing a Family” module teens explore ways to guide children’s behaviors and manage life challenges, enabling them to fulfill their dreams.

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

In the past year, 1,000 teens participated in the Healthy Foundations program at two North Carolina public high schools - evenly split male and female, 80% age 14-15, racially diverse, and only 3% already pregnant / parenting. Consistent with prior years’ evaluations, this year’s findings were: • 93% of teens reported being better able to wait to conceive a child until they are ready for the responsibility • 96% reported feeling better able to provide for, protect and nurture a child In their own words, teens said: • “It helps you set goals in your future so you can be more motivated” Female (14) • “The lesson was very timely and presented everything in a good stage of my life” Male (15) • “I liked that it went into detail about how much work and dedication children need” Female (15) • “It made me think and probably saved my child's life" Male teen-dad (15)

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $10k - $50k

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

To ensure financial sustainability, our strategy is to increase social enterprise opportunities for the curriculum. The program has been designed for easy integration into schools and youth programs with clearly written Discussion Guides and documentation for instructors. In addition, our strategic plan is to expand our board, our base of donors and supporters. We have also been increasing awareness of our program through community events.

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?

Innovative aspects of the Healthy Foundations program are: • A straightforward approach to family planning in concert with other life goals, and distinct from most “family planning” programs’ focus on how not to have a family. • Helps teens start building capacities to support their future child’s wellbeing, instead of traditional parent education programs that serve already-overwhelmed parents. • Reach all male and female teens through Integration in required health education classes, in contrast with elective family science courses that reach only a subset of primarily female students.

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?

Essentials for Childhood, an exciting new strategy championed by the CDC, is broadening the field of child maltreatment from a focus on risk factors to optimal child development. The Essentials of Childhood strategy highlights the role of safe, stable, nurturing relationships (SSNRs) in children’s health. Recognizing that child maltreatment is highly prevalent and significantly under-reported to social services agencies, the Essentials for Childhood has taken a broad-based public health approach. This new paradigm can cultivate new and proactive ways to promote children’s wellbeing.

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

  • Email
  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Michelle Hughes - Executive Director, NC Child


Join the conversation:

Photo of Karla Mitchell

This model is a great head start for children and parents - it would be great if you could expand on how the education translates to impact for the children and how they fare long after the interaction.

Photo of Randi Rubenstein

Hi Karla, Thank you for your comments and suggestions.  I agree that we need to share more information about how the curriculum is affecting attitudes, knowledge and behavior - now and in the future.  We hope to be selected for the Refinement stage so we can include more information.  The Results section of the online submission form allowed for fewer characters than we had anticipated; in hindsight, I would have included that information in the section for describing our program which did not have the same space constraints.  Having instructed 6,000 teens over the past 11 years, we look forward to sharing more details about the post-evaluation data we have captured so far, and some of the anecdotes we've heard afterwards from students - including one teen who stopped her sister-in-law from shaking a baby.  What we really would like to do is a rigorous longitudinal study to address exactly the issue you raise about long-term impact.  We have  a logic model, and we have identified measures to assess the outcomes for childrens' wellbeing.  It would be marvelous to get the assistance and funding to implement this evaluation.  Thank you again for your time in reviewing our program!

Photo of Karla Mitchell

Great feedback Randi, i wish you the best of luck!

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