“Are we all racist?”
Taken out of context, this is an alarming and controversial question. However, when Ingrid Canady of the State Education Resource Center (SERC) asked the question during her training session with Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, “An Introduction to the Courageous Conversation™ About Racism,” it did not feel either of those things. It felt like an objective question asked by a courageous facilitator to a roomful of community child health leaders eager to understand how we can influence the narrative around racism and the other isms that influence our society, so that we can advance equity and help all children reach their full potential.
A Focus on Equity
SERC provides resources, professional development, and a centralized library to educators, families, and community members in an effort to achieve their vision: EQUITY. Excellence. Education. Believing students have the right to access opportunities and experiences that reflect and respect their differences and abilities, SERC addresses institutionalized racism and other issues of social justices in schools and school districts. Ingrid Canady, executive director of SERC and our facilitator, introduced us to SERC’s definition of equity in education and the Courageous Conversation™ Framework. While this was an introductory session preceding a full-day training, we began to have an interracial dialogue about race and in doing so, agreed to stay engaged, experience discomfort, speak our truth, and expect and accept non-closure.
A Platform for Equity
While we use different words and phrases, I believe that SERC and the Childhood Prosperity Lab (the Lab) have the same goal: for all children to reach their full potential. Here at the Lab, we do that by supporting the development of innovative strategies that promote child health, development, and well-being while nurturing changemakers who are reimagining how to help children flourish, thrive, and succeed. The Lab is founded on three pillars that distinguish it from other hospital innovation initiatives, which generally focus on the cultivation and growth of strategies that benefit children with delays, diseases and disorders. The Lab’s approach uniquely positions it to serve as a platform for equity. The Lab incubates and advances social innovations, which are novel solutions to the social, environmental, and behavioral problems that children too often face that are more effective, equitable, and sustainable than current solutions. The changemakers the Lab works with must embrace a population health approach and systems approach. Leveraging a population approach positions changemakers to benefit populations of children and families and support the equitable distribution of outcomes within populations. They also embrace a systems approach in their work by developing social innovations that identify and address the root causes of problems that negatively affect children and families.
The differences in child health, development, and well-being outcomes based on race, ethnicity, neighborhood, and familial socio-economic status are well documented. The Lab’s pillars take into account that there is no one driving factor causing childhood prosperity. Rather, it is the combination of and connection between social, environmental, behavioral, and genetic influences that truly make a difference. To successfully help all children flourish, thrive, and succeed, we must support children in the context of their surroundings by supporting communities and strengthening families.
When designing the Lab, we recognized a need to strategically integrate equity into all facets of our work so that we can help all children prosper. While there are many definitions for equity, at the Lab, we define equity as the absence of unfair differences based on social, economic, demographic, geographic, or other dividing factors in the quality, effectiveness, availability, accessibility, and responsiveness of services, resources, and other supports designed to help children prosper.
While we cannot undo historical inequities, we must be cognizant of their long-term impact and be intentional about trying to prevent further inequities moving forward. The Lab does this by engaging changemakers in crucial conversations – asking thoughtful, challenging questions regarding the design, testing, implementation, evaluation and growth of innovative strategies. The Lab also does this by embracing a targeted universalism approach, in which we recognize that our quest to help all children flourish, thrive, and succeed looks different for each child. The Lab supports the development of universal strategies that have the potential to benefit all children, but targets outreach and engagement among those children who will derive the most benefit, which is an approach similar to the one taken by the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
Areas in which the Lab finds it especially important to integrate crucial conversations and targeted universalism include mastermind sessions in which we incubate innovative strategies, as well as technical assistance and coaching sessions designed to advance innovative strategies or nurture organizational culture. During mastermind sessions, advisors ask structured questions about who will benefit from an innovative strategy, how changemakers will assess if a strategy achieves its intended outcomes, how changemakers engage different stakeholders, and which systems and policies support or impede the implementation and evaluation of a strategy. When engaging changemakers in technical assistance and coaching to advance an innovative strategy, the Lab challenges them to think about children’s development in the context of different social and environmental contexts to develop a tailored approach that is informed by risk, need and protective factors.
Embracing an Equity Mindset
We do not have an answer for Ingrid’s question, “Are we all racist?”, nor do we have an answer for a question we grapple with every day – how do we ensure all children flourish, thrive, and succeed? We do know that both questions are challenging us to think, practice, and engage in new strategies, and embrace an equity mindset in all that we do.
We want to hear from you! Tell us how you are promoting childhood prosperity and helping children flourish, thrive, and succeed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH, is the program manager for the Childhood Prosperity Lab, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.
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Categories: Social Innovation