There are two distinct ways of defining 'solution' with this project. The first type of solution is the Early Childhood Innovation Network (ECIN), a city-wide initiative which provides the overarching infrastructure for identifying and deploying groundbreaking early childhood interventions—these comprise the second type of solution.
The Early Childhood Innovation Network (ECIN) is based in a transformative partnership between Children's National Health System and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and was officially launched in late 2015. We know that artificial silos persist despite glaring evidence from the scientific literature that child development observes no such separation: children living in highly stressed environments struggle in ways that simultaneously impact learning, social relations, physical health, and emotional stability; therefore, the ECIN founders are highly inclusive with their approach. The ECIN's initial 5-year implementation plan is phased in order to manage this complex growth and ensure success.
It is vital to underscore that while primary care and early childhood education providers are important contributors to a child’s health and development, the family is the first and most consistent influence. Models or interventions that do not engage and support the family in the settings where they live, work, and play are destined to be less effective and often fail. Environmental, neighborhood, and family influences can impact a child’s chances for success even before they are conceived. Effective interventions can change the fabric of a family and community, and have an impact for generations to come. Unfortunately, though many programs are available in the community to support families, they are often under-resourced, short-lived, ill-coordinated with other efforts, and offer interventions not based in sound evidence. To truly improve child and family outcomes, it is important to raise the level of the services available to families and support community-based agencies in their dedicated and earnest efforts to improve the lives of children in their neighborhoods.
Thus, the unique power of the ECIN derives from a diverse city-wide community of stakeholders and advocates who are committed to creating lasting systemic change for the wellbeing of the District's children. The ECIN is designed as a comprehensive cross-sector platform that integrates innovation, education, research, and advocacy. In addition to Children's National Health System and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, the Children’s Law Center, the DC Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have key roles in leading and shaping the ECIN. A host of pediatric healthcare providers, government public health officials, educators, community health organizations, and insurers are participating in the ECIN's first phase of efforts to improve how the District approaches pediatric mental health. We also see that many Ashoka members align closely with the ECIN and we welcome the opportunity to build alliances with them moving forward.
The ECIN Vision:
- Children in our city will receive the best possible start in life, setting the stage for long-term health and success
- Providers, such as pediatricians, early childhood educators, and social support workers who interact with young children will work collaboratively, synergistically, and with a minimum of duplication towards the common goal of strengthening families
- Systemic policies and procedures will ensure children, families, and providers are able to access the high-quality interventions and timely supports they need
- Evidence and research will rigorously inform program development and guide expansion and replication, serving as a best practice model for the nation.
The ECIN’s lean core team serves as the hub of the Network and engages in high levels of communication with the Network partners in order to support their involvement. The team also builds the mechanisms needed for true collaboration. Members work closely with public, private, and philanthropic partners in the metropolitan Washington, DC region to find, test, adapt, and spread new and better solutions to early childhood challenges that truly work. They look specifically for previously proven, cost-conscious interventions in the early childhood space. These relevant solutions tend to increase individuals’ capacities to learn, work, and earn; lower crime rates; save spending on special education and social safety nets; and reduce the healthcare costs of common and expensive chronic health conditions. The initiative utilizes rapid-cycle quality improvement techniques and scientific measures, incorporating early findings and frequent feedback to maximize the interventions’ value to children and families—we call this process 'microtrials'.
Once an intervention proves effective for our community, it becomes independently and sustainably embedded in our pilot partner's setting and also disseminated more broadly with the aim of establishing it as a common best practice. We then move on to assessing and integrating other promising interventions. The core elements of our theory of change are to promote strong and responsive family and caregiving environments; to cultivate resilience early in life; and to advance a national model informed by the latest knowledge for a thriving and sustainable society.
Due to its nimble design, the ECIN has eyes and ears on the ground, learning about barriers across the District that stand between effective interventions and the children and families who need them most. Often, providers identify problems but lack the city-wide data to back up their concerns. The ECIN will use its infrastructure to collect and aggregate this information. By applying lessons learned and the most compelling findings that demonstrate problems, community need, and strategic solutions, the ECIN will drive lasting improvements at many levels—institutional policy, local regulation, and legislative action. Our collaborations with the Children’s Law Center, Children’s National’s Child Health Advocacy Institute, and the Georgetown Center for Child and Human Development have been extremely powerful in the past; and we look forward to further leveraging them to impact even more substantive and enduring change. Most importantly, our team and collaborators’ reputations as being mission-driven, action-oriented professionals give us great influence and the ability to make compelling, comprehensive recommendations.
In addition to the thousands of lives the ECIN will directly enhance, ultimately it is intended to bring about a culture shift across domains—most notably home, health care and education. These policy targets have local focus and national significance, with the potential to advance systems’ capacities to prioritize policies that improve childhood outcomes.