Child Development

The Whole is Greater than Sum of its Parts: Examples of Synergy across Programs

By: Erin Cornell, MPH

Before joining the Help Me Grow National Center team, I worked with two other programs at Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (the Office). Both programs focused on increasing capacity to maximize efficiencies in child-serving systems; in both, I was fortunate to draw upon Office resources at several critical periods. A great example of the synergy found among Office programs resulted early in my work with one of those programs, Mid-Level Developmental Assessment (MLDA): we were charged with creating a web-based data platform, an arduous task with several possible trajectories and outcomes. In the end, I looked no further than down the hall to a partner program, Practice Quality Improvement, which had already created a viable online data system which I was able to successfully adapt for our needs. Just like in the early childhood field, there’s a scarcity of methods available to measure how much time we didn’t spend on this that we otherwise would have, or how many dollars were saved by leveraging what already existed. Still, I don’t take for granted the support and knowledge available to me through other Office programs.

There is a strong analogy to be found here between the synergy among programs of the Office, with the Office serving as a facilitator and convener of program resources, knowledge, and expertise, and the Help Me Grow National Center, where I currently work. The Help Me Grow National Center similarly supports a diverse set of communities, or affiliates, in their implementation of the Help Me Grow model. Each Help Me Grow affiliate community operates much like an Office program: experts in the design, operation, and growth of the model to ensure capacity to improve family- and community-level outcomes. The breadth and depth of knowledge across Help Me Grow systems with respect to how best to design early childhood systems that strengthen our most vulnerable children and mitigate the effects of adversity is staggering. Like Office programs, affiliates operate as a network of similarly situated organizations and individuals seeking to leverage proven best practices, rather than recreate the wheel. They speak the same language and tackle the same challenges. They wrestle with how best to message their Help Me Grow work to achieve buy-in and secure funding. While affiliates share a specific focus on the Help Me Grow model, both affiliates and Office programs benefit from continued traction and advocacy for their work at the local, state, and national levels. Like Office programs, affiliates embody the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” sentiment: the influence we can exert as a collective far exceeds that of any of us operating in isolation.

The National Center doesn’t operate a Help Me Grow model. Its value is predicated on its ability to: ensure lessons learned by one affiliate are shared with all, to develop and refine tools and processes that can support both new and existing communities in successful Help Me Grow implementation, to bring novel and relevant innovations to bear across the Help Me Grow network, to ensure visibility of Help Me Grow as a critical resource to solving contemporary challenges in early detection, referral, and linkage, and the list goes on.  Much of what I learned serving in proximity to the Office I’ve used to inform the strategic priorities of the National Center, and is yet another example, more abstract than a data system, of the synergy inherent to the Office.

A recent award the Help Me Grow National Center received from The JPB Foundation will enable us to invest in specific objectives we see as critical to advancing a national network of communities focused on ensuring early detection, referral, and linkage:

  • System development activities that engage new communities with the Help Me Grow model; grow the network in terms of range, diversity, and volume of professionals from which to learn and apply best practices; and expand our portfolio of technical assistance strategies to enable the diffusion of messaging, news, resources, and expertise.
  • System enhancement activities that maintain Help Me Grow’s ability to remain relevant in a dynamic and changing environment. In our view, sustainability of Help Me Grow requires that the National Center remains aware of, shares, and, in some instances, directly leads the evolution of Help Me Grow model components, and that the National Center leverages the network as a vehicle to diffuse innovative concepts in early childhood.
  • System assessment activities that ensure that the National Center preserves the ability to capture the scope of Help Me Grow implementations across the country and both contribute to and share affiliate evaluations of the inputs and outputs of a Help Me Grow system. Over the next three years, we will also lead, in partnership with the Center for Health Care Strategies, an effort to determine the return on investment associated with Help Me Grow’s emphasis on prevention and promotion.

These activities parallel the Offices’ focus on strengthening programs, encouraging synergy across programs, and serving as an incubator for promising approaches in advancing community child health. Would we have articulated a similar strategy for the National Center without our being embedded in the Office infrastructure? My estimation is no. In small and large ways, the Office has influenced our understanding of how we can best cultivate, refine, and sustain Help Me Grow implementations. As we move ahead with the efforts made possible through JPB’s investment, perhaps there will be opportunity to apply what we learn to the work of the Office, bringing our collective energy on behalf of children and families full circle.

Erin Cornell, MPH, is the associate director of the Help Me Grow National Center.

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