Centering Parent Voice and Leadership to Support Early Relational Health

In this episode, we learn about how to build and strengthen partnerships with parent leaders so that the wide spectrum of parent voices and needs are kept at the center when supporting early relational health for families.

To explore this topic and more, we learn from the national collective Nurture Connection and how their partnership with a diverse group of parent leaders has helped evolve and advance their work to support early relational health for all families. Joining us for this conversation are Claudia Aristy, Bryn Fortune, Mia Halthon, and Becky Jaques Hasak. They discuss how centering parent voices has been key to the work as well as what challenges they have encountered and worked through along the way.

Ways to listen: You can listen below or on your preferred podcast streaming service, including Itunes, Spotify, Simplecast, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon, and other podcast apps.

Please find a transcript of this talk further down this page.

References and Footnotes

More on Collective Impact


The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0.

The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.

The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

In this episode, we discuss how to build and strengthen partnerships with parent leaders so that the wide spectrum of parent voices and needs are kept at the center when supporting early relational health for families. To explore this topic, we learn about the national initiative Nurture Connection and how their partnership with a diverse group of parent leaders has helped evolve and advance their work. Joining us for this conversation on supporting parent partnerships are Claudia Aristy, Bryn Fortune, Mia Halthon, and Becky Jaques Hasak. We hear how centering parent voices has been key to their work as well as what challenges they have encountered and worked through along the way. Moderating this discussion is Collective Impact Forum executive director Jennifer Splansky Juster. Let’s listen in.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Hello, everyone and welcome to today’s podcast. I’m Jennifer Juster, executive director of the Collective Impact Forum. Here at the Forum, we are always eager to lift up examples of how collective efforts are embodying different approaches to centering equity in their work.

One core strategy of centering equity that we often talk about as outlined in the article, Centering Equity in Collective Impact is listening to and acting with community. Different efforts, of course, take different approaches to listening and acting with community. This plays out in terms of how these initiatives seek to understand the experiences of community and people with lived experience, how these efforts decide who will lead the work, how governance is structured and engagement is conducted, and ultimately, who is really engaged and moving the work of the collaborative forward.

Today, I’m thrilled to be diving into this topic of listening to and acting with community with leaders from Nurture Connection. Nurture Connection is a national collective effort focused on growing the movement to promote early relational health. Nurture Connection advances early relational health so that all families can experience the joy and lifelong health benefits that come from strong, positive, and nurturing relationships in early childhood. In today’s conversation, we’ll learn how this innovative effort has put parent partnership at the core of everything they do as they listen to and act with community both nationally across the United States and locally in community.

Joining me for today’s conversation are four leaders from this work. Each will introduce themselves in a moment but it is my pleasure to welcome Mia Halthon-Jones, Claudia Aristy, Bryn Fortune, and Becky Jaques Hasak to the conversation.

Welcome, everyone. I would love to start by asking you to each introduce yourself and tell us about your role with Nurture Connection. Mia, why don’t we start with you?

Mia Halthon-Jones: All right. I am Mia Halthon. I am a mother of four and a parent leader out of Detroit, Michigan. I’ve been with Parent Leadership for about a little over five years. With Nurture Connection my role is I am one of six parent leaders that form the Family Network Collaborative and I represent 10 families that either identify as Black or Brown and that have received home visiting services in the state of Michigan.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, Mia. Claudia.

Claudia Aristy: Hi. My name is Claudia Aristy and I’m the director for the Reach Out and Read program at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. I’ve been with Reach Out and Read for 22 years and therefore this work with Family Network Collaborative in trying to promote early relational health was an immediate attraction because of the alignment with the work I’ve been doing with families here through Reach Out and Read. In the parent voice that I represent, the partnerships that I’m representing is the families who are immigrants and they speak Spanish, which is the highest percentage of families in our clinic.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: And how about you, Bryn? Please introduce yourself to our listeners.

Bryn Fortune: I’m Bryn Fortune and Claudia didn’t mention this but both Claudia and I—our origins and our roots are that of parents who became parent leaders that kind of moved into our roles and our jobs and I have been a part of since the ’80s, late ’80s, helping different systems try to authentically engage and partner with families. I come to this work as the coordinator for the Family Network Collaborative for our efforts.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: And Becky.

Becky Jaques Hasak: Great to be here. My name is Becky Jaques Hasak. I’m a senior program director with Health+ Studio, which is a social impact agency that’s been working closely with the leadership of Nurture Connection on both the overall strategic development and design of the initiative as well as all of our strategic communications activities for the initiative. I am a mom of two young and crazy boys.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Wonderful. Great to meet you all. I am also the mom of two children, five- and seven-year-olds so this conversation is very near and dear to my heart as well.

Tell us a little bit more about the overall collaborative movement, Nurture Connection.

Becky Jaques Hasak: I’m happy to start here. As you shared, Jen, at the beginning, which was a great overview of Nurture Connection, but we are a growing engaged and connected network committed to promoting early relational health.

For those of you who early relational health may be a new term, it’s certainly not a new concept, but the idea here is it’s the state of emotional wellbeing that grows from those positive emotional connections between young children and their parents or caregivers. It’s really foundational to children’s healthy growth and development as well as their parents’ and caregivers’ sense of competence, connection, and overall wellbeing.These relationships also actually have a protective factor for the family as well from the harmful effects of stress. There’s really positive impact at multiple levels from the child to the parent or caregiver as well as the family unit.

The reason we’re so, feel so strongly about promoting early relational health right now given the current context, our U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy just cited an epidemic of loneliness and isolation in our country with health risks as detrimental as smoking daily. They issued a statement about what we can do about this disease of disconnection as they’ve been calling it. We know this issue is critical and urgent to the health and wellbeing of everyone in our country and for us, we believe we’ve got to start as early as possible from the beginning of life or even prenatally to start building these strong positive and nurturing connections and relationships.

That’s really the vision for Nurture Connection. It’s a future where every family experiences the joy and benefits of strong positive and nurturing relationships where every community and every system supports emotional connection between parents and caregivers and their babies and toddlers and really view early relational health as being vital to creating a healthier society.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Such an important topic and so timely, as you mentioned, Becky. Can you tell us a little bit about the collaborative effort Nurture Connection, like who are some of the partners in this work? And tell us a little bit more about the collaborative itself.

Becky Jaques Hasak: Sure. I’m happy to start, please have others join in. We really believe that what we’re envisioning for the future, that’s a big job that no one organization, one person, one institution, one community can take on by themselves. The idea for Nurture Connection is how do we create a really big tent that folks see themselves in? Anyone who is promoting the health and wellbeing of young children and families has a place within Nurture Connection. We know that we need every voice, every expertise, every community, and this should be across geographies, systems, sectors, and expertise.

Right now, we have multiple leadership groups and then a broader network what we’re working within, and this includes parents, doulas, community health workers, systems leaders, policymakers, funders, pediatricians, researchers. We really have a wide range of partners and leaders in this effort and believe that there is a seat at the table for anyone who cares about young kids and families. We’re quite broad in our membership for this work.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yeah, a big tent indeed. As part of that and what you mentioned first, parent partnership is such an important piece of this work, and where it really started. Tell us a little bit about how you launched this movement with the Family Network Collaborative.

Bryn Fortune: We really began—we first started thinking about if we were going to bring together a steering committee or a governance body and we knew we wanted to have parents as true partners authentically inside the work, the first thing we’d recognize is we need to figure out how we’re going to build our Parent Network Collaborative. We didn’t call it at that point that name. How would we build this effort?

We first began by identifying who are the six communities that we think probably their voices have been the least heard and the least understood in terms of anything we already know about the work we’re doing. We very much started from an approach with an equity lens and we identified that we wanted to hear from community of families who were Spanish-speaking immigrants. That would be who Claudia is representing. We wanted to learn from a group of families who identify as Black and Brown and have recently received home visiting services. We wanted to learn from a Native American voice and currently and obviously we—this is the beginning. This is not an end point, but initially we are now working with the San Felipe Pueblo out of New Mexico and one of their parent leaders. We wanted the rural southern voice so we’re working with a group out of Alabama. We wanted the voice of children who have special health care needs and disabilities, their parents. So we have a representative from Maryland who recently moved to Ohio and that group of families. And then the Fatherhood Network who is out of the state of Washington.

We knew we wanted to have it across the country, across the various cultures. We also recognized that commonly what initiatives do is bring a couple of parents to a table and have those perspectives. We were clear that parent leaders, all of us our perceptions change as we have more opportunities and so we knew by the time we identified parent leaders they will have had more opportunities than the families living inside the neighborhood and we wanted both perspectives.

So we identified six parent leaders of obviously me and Claudia are two of those who we knew had the connection to the 10 neighborhood voices that they’re representing because our design was that as anything inside of the Nurture Connection work that we’re really wanting this rich family voice, we’re going to ask the question, the parent leaders are going to now interview the questions for their 10 family leaders and bring back that information as a group to the six parent leaders. This group of parent leaders meets biweekly and we’re going to by the time for instance, Mia and Steven join the steering committee. They’re representing a field of expertise from the parent voice of the 66 voices. Just as your researcher and your scientist and your pediatrician and your policymaker are all coming to the steering committee with a field of expertise, what’s different about our design is we set it up so that whether it’s in work groups or the steering committee the family voice comes in with a field of expertise and not just a couple of people’s individual experiences.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, Bryn. The way you talk about really working toward moving away from tokenism in representation and in participation is really powerful. I would love to hear Mia and Claudia, from you, about this experience of being parent leaders and liaising and really representing the expertise of the broader set of your community in the steering committee and in other spaces.

Mia Halthon-Jones: I’ve worked on quite a few parent leadership initiatives and that’s what’s so unique about the Family Network Collaborative and Nurture Connection is the trust, transparency, and authenticity that it brings.

Quite a few initiatives that I’ve worked on it’s like a one and done so the parents give the information and then you never know what happens. If you go on to a bigger movement and they use different parents but that’s not true of this initiative. There’s so much transparency. I know where I am, what my voice is, and they make sure that it’s authentic and the parents within my community, that’s another issue that they don’t really always trust that, OK, you’re asking me these questions. You want to know more information, my family’s experiences, but what am I actually getting out of this or where is this going. But with the Family Network Collaborative the parents know exactly what’s going on. They have their voices at the table. I bring it to the table with the steering committee and that’s also true that I feel like I’m just as important when I bring back as part of the steering committee, I bring back 66 voices of all the different communities and I feel just as heard and trusted as the professionals at the table.

Claudia Aristy: For me, it has been a wonderful experience because after working for so many years with Reach Out and Read in a pediatric setting, coming from the community I’m representing sometimes you might fall into the trap of believing you know it all, right? And that this experience has really pushed me to set aside my interpretation and really bring their perspective which is what we want and what we need in order to inform the work that we’re trying to do.

In other experiences I have had where I was asked to be that parent leader that was not the case. It wasn’t what Claudia thinks the family needs or wants or their experiences. This is not about me. This is actually about them and every time I would interview the families and ask the questions, it was a really humble experience to see the responses and to confront myself in the mirror and say, “Ah, that’s not necessarily what I would have thought or would have said.”

So it’s has been really an opening experience in terms of discovering. Discovering experience for me for the families to see that there is a group that actually values their opinion and their expertise and their experience and that they’re an important, a very important component from the beginning as part of this process.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, Claudia and Mia, for sharing those perspectives, and I would love to hear a little bit more about maybe some specific examples of things that you think might have played out differently in this work because you’ve been in such deep conversation and co-creating and co-designing this work with the broader set of parents in your communities.

Mia Halthon-Jones: I have a really particular experience with the Family Network Collaborative, one of the questions that we took to our families was who would you want to hear information about early relational health. Our families came back with answers that we weren’t sure if they really understood the question so kind of like professionals, nurses, not people that were really personal to them so to us we said, well, maybe they didn’t understand the question, and it wasn’t an educational level kind of thing, it was just maybe it was just we didn’t make it in regular terms so then we coined the term living room language.

We went back to the families and we asked them who would you trust or feel comfortable hearing information or advice about early relational health and we got totally different answers which were other parents, our family members, librarians, people in the community. Particular to my community when I went back with the question again, they were like, “they really cared if we really understood the question?” and I’m like, yeah, and they were like, well, that doesn’t happen, usually, OK, whatever answer we give is what we give because they—my community feels like they’re not really heard or not really seen, so it really doesn’t matter. That really touched them that we took the time to go back to them and reword the question and we really cared about their experiences or how they felt about that.

Claudia Aristy: And to add to that, for my community then there was another level of complexity. So here we were talking about living room language, right? And now you have to think about how do I translate into Spanish. In English everything is so much shorter, so much easier to say, and then in Spanish might be triple the words so thinking about how to put it in living room language in Spanish that would resonate, would really elicit the type of responses that we were looking for.

One example of that was when we were thinking about the name of the initiative, and it was a whole process. We each individually were making guesses about what would be the winner, and then when we went back to our families and we were encountering really very different responses from what we thought it would be, and one of the things that came across with my families was that it was lacking in terms of—because the word nurture in Spanish, it’s not really a word that we use. When we think about nurture, we talk more about love, and then in the names that were provided, the families said but I don’t see the love there. Where is the love? Where is the family? And one way to honor what they were bringing was really thinking about, OK, we are picking the name that the majority of the families represented through the Family Network Collaborative chose but then coming up with the idea, we need to have a different tagline in Spanish that really honors what the families are saying they feel is important about this message.

Bryn Fortune: Yeah, and I just want to add it’s just really the emphasis of what you’re really hearing from both Mia and Claudia. It’s this piece of opportunity. Parent leaders oftentimes, because they’ve had these opportunities, don’t have that fresh eye perspective so what you’re really hearing is how much we’ve built our structure so that we’re really hearing from those neighborhood voices, and there have been times with the six parent leaders and me as coordinator, we’ve had a conversation and we collectively have thought, oh, this is it, only to have them go do the interview and it’s like it’s not it at all for those, what I call those “surprise eyes.”

So that’s really if you think about how we’re structured, we’re layering up our voice from those very fresh perspectives to our parent leaders who can take our systems language and translate it into living room language, and then roll up into how Mia and Steven can be on the steering committee and represent this field of expertise from the families and be really pure peers to researchers and scientists and so forth. So here are the different layerings of how we’re rolling this out.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Bryn, you’ve mentioned Steven. Tell us who Steven is.

Bryn Fortune: Sorry. Steven is—I do that because he’s serving on the steering committee with Mia. The Family Network Collaborative chose who the two members would join along with me who make up 25 percent of the steering committee. Steven is our parent leader representing the Fatherhood Council out of the state of Washington so the people he is interviewing are all dads.

The other piece because it was asked last week in something Mia and I were doing, we really do have more than 66 voices because there are times that, for instance, Steven may interview 20 dads but we keep our demographics and our ideas contained to what we can say with certainty because beyond 10 moves around a bit but the other piece I would want people to know because this is really a part of our structure are demographics of our 66 voices, is 85 percent of those have families five and under because one of the things you often hear is that you can’t find the families voices for early childhood. Essentially this structure is doing a great job of that.

The other thing that we have is the demographics from not just across the country but the different breakdowns of this group, and 45 percent of the voices from across these 66 are families who live in poverty or low income. So there’s other demographics but those are the two because often you hear people say we can’t find the early—they’re so busy with their babies and their children, and it’s like, no, we can really do this when we—clearly Mia and Claudia are trusted in their neighborhoods in their work so if we roll it up this way, we can find these voices just fine.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yeah, and the 66 just because there are so many layers we’re talking about here, that 66 is the six parent leaders that you mentioned right up front so Mia, Claudia, Steven, plus the three others that you have mentioned reaching into their communities, their neighborhoods with 10 other parents so that is how we get to that 66, then have a subset with Mia and Steven sitting on the national steering committee so I just want to draw that out to kind of connect to those six different demographic groups that you mentioned up front, Bryn.

I will say I think it is not often that we hear fatherhood and dads specifically called out and represented in conversations particularly with young parents so I want to just underscore that and recognize the importance of elevating the father’s voice as well.

Bryn Fortune: You know I’ll just add to once piece. The other voice you often don’t hear is the southern rural voice, which is a whole different culture onto itself, and in many of the pieces I see, you absolutely don’t see that voice represented often.

Both Claudia and Mia can tell you—Tish is the name of the parent leader. Tish’s voice is often very different from some of the other communities so it’s really a very important thing to bring these different voices together.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Wonderful. So parent partnership as we were just talking about is very clear in the structure of the FNC, the Family Network Collaborative. That’s the six leaders with their communities but we also know in addition to the steering committee, parents are represented even in other parts of the broader effort, the work groups if you will.

Can you tell us more about parent engagement in those other settings too?

Bryn Fortune: Of course, this is a building initiative. I think we’re about, what? Fourteen months in, Becky? Into this so, again, it’s a young initiative so while we have six or seven different working groups, they’re not all up and running yet if you will.

But I will give the example of the research network. We have the—the FNC is represented and we have a research network learning community which is bringing together a number of researchers and scientists who are really interested in the neuroscience part of early relational health, and so there’s scholars from Columbia and Stanford, they’re from all over the country.

In that work group, because we were particularly interested in, for instance, in the body of research, how do we really partner with families from the beginning because we recognized that traditional research begins with data. Well, what data we gather never had these neighborhood voices telling us what data we should be gathering so their voice is left out from right where we start, and then we take what the science is telling us to understand the research, put it into practice, and then look for the outcomes. That’s the traditional trajectory of research.

This learning community looked and said let’s look at it from two angles, and this is about the parent partnership within research, and said what happens if—let’s explore every one of those and see what structure we would be using to have parent partnership. We are still in the discovery of that from that pure science researcher lens but the other thing we did was flip it over and say what would it look like if we worked with a participatory or human-centered design kind of approach and implementation science, and that’s where we partnered with Stanford.

Just a couple of weeks ago we had four parent leaders, two who are from the FNC and two who were from the communities that have been interviewed, that went to Stanford, and for the first time, the human-centered design lab is actually an approach where they take a question or a problem they’re trying to solve, typically they’re graduate students that are part of the design school, and then they go do some sets of interviews of stakeholders so they really go out and learn about the problem from the people in the field, and then they create a prototype of what solutions might be.

This was the first time where even Stanford had taken on the idea that what would happen if we did like a pop-up or makeshift structure to the design school that’s a bit of a hybrid, brought in parent leaders as part of the design students, not people we’re interviewing but they’re part of our design students, and they’re going to go out with the graduate students and do the interviewing.

So we just did that two weeks ago to really look at what does it look like to bring the parents right from the beginning and not in a learn-from-us but learn-with-us approach, and it was fascinating to listen to the questions the graduate students asked, the questions that the parent leaders asked, and then the prototype, and how you saw these two very different cultures frankly coming together in the prototype.

So I’ll stop there but that’s an example of in all the working groups we’re really challenging ourselves on the edge of innovation. What does it really mean from the ground up to partner with families on policy? What does it really mean in research? So we’re in this exploration and innovation of looking at all these.

Becky Jaques Hasak: Yeah, I’ll just add as we’ve been working with the steering committee, and this is a 12-person steering committee and Bryn has mentioned a quarter of the steering committee is made up of members from the FNC or representatives from the FNC which is fantastic.

The Family Network Collaborative was actually established and set up before the steering committee so in a lot of ways the parent leaders have been at this from the very beginning and transitioned then on to the steering committee as others joined as well. Our steering committee is made up of parent leaders, funders, pediatricians, systems leaders, researchers, nonprofit leaders, etc., and I will just say one thing, and Bryn has really shared this from the beginning. It’s like, yes, we’re centering parent partnership and that’s critical to all of the work we’re doing yet we’re seeing parent voice equal to professional voice, right? That every member, for instance, at that steering committee table has equal voice in this initiative. We’re not forgetting about parents but we have to have a power dynamic where there’s equality there in terms of voices represented.

And so one of the ways that we’ve been actualizing that or executing on that is through this decision-making process called “gradients of agreement.” If you want to look up gradients of agreement, things will pop up to show you that scale but what’s been so nice about that is that even if we only had one parent voice on the steering committee, which we wouldn’t, any one voice can pause the process if they’re not comfortable with how we’re proceeding with a recommendation or a decision. You rate on a scale from zero to eight I think, and if you’re at a three or below saying, you know, I’m really not sure about this, I’m having pause, I’m feeling uncomfortable about this, the group process stops, and then we figure out how do we come to resolution from that. What is a compromise that will allow us to move that person from a three to a four which would be like we can proceed, I don’t love it but we can proceed, and so that structure of decision making has worked very well for us in terms of equity in decision making on our steering committee. I just wanted to elevate that as we’re talking about these different voices that are around our tables.

Bryn Fortune: I just want to add one piece because I think it’s critical for the field to know, and we experienced it both at the Family Network Collaborative table as well as the steering committee. One of the ways you know you’re in these very authentic partnerships is there will be tension in the differences.

Again, the FNC just as parent leaders have experienced the tension, and one of the things I always say, it’s one of your audit systems. If you don’t have tension in your conversations, you’re actually probably not in partnership because your viewing perspectives is of a researcher and a parent and the expertise they’re bringing are not alike, and we’re wanting to find that sweet spot of where we come into agreement, and again, even within our six different communities, we’ve had tension and differences with the FNC, and so it’s about how do you facilitate your way through the tension into these beautiful agreements.

So the gradient is part of it but part of it—I always want people to know if you’re not in the tension, you’re probably not in the partnership work yet. You’re still trying to get there.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yeah, staying at more of the surface level if you don’t get to the conversations that have tension in them. Thank you for the mention of gradients of agreement. It’s a great resource and we can include a link to something in the show notes about that. Tell me what have been some of the biggest challenges in the work and how you’re worked through these.

Mia Halthon-Jones: Jennifer, I have to say I had challenges at the very beginning with my community. I want to say first which I talked about earlier about trust, transparency, authenticity, which is a problem with the Black and Brown community so going to find my 10 parents which identify as Black or Brown and use home visiting services, and going to them and asking them to be a part of this initiative was very hard. Bryn can attest to this because at first, I was like, Bryn, I don’t know if I can do this. This is not going to work. I can’t get anybody to say yes because they didn’t trust that this was going to be authentic. Was their voice going to be really at the table? Were they going to authentically use their family experiences? I had to really sell them that I believe and trust in this and it’s different, and they know I’ve been in the community, I’ve been on different projects, and so this was different. So, yes, that was the biggest challenge.

We definitely are way past that. My parents are all in. They’re so excited. One of my parents and one of the ones that was able to be a part of the research project so that was one of my actual 10 parents, and now she’s able to be on the research project. She was actually with us yesterday for another project to give her expertise and experiences so my parents are all in but that was definitely a big challenge, was to get them to trust and believe that this was going to be authentic compared to other community initiatives.

Another thing was there’s so much trauma and triggers around that in the Black and Brown community that their family experience, is this really going to help or is this going to harm so I really had to tell them that, no, I believe in this and it’s going to be a good movement.

Bryn Fortune: I’m wondering if Mia, because she spoke of it last week, would you just reference because you had shared with the group last week about the idea of belonging and what that really meant to your community. So if you would just add to what you just spoke, that belonging piece, that would be terrific.

Mia Halthon-Jones: Yeah, so last week we were at a summit and one of the days was about belonging, and me personally I have never felt that I belong on any of the parent leadership and I say any of the parent leadership projects that I have been a part of until the Family Network Collaborative, and that is true of my parents also. They feel like they belong. They have a voice and this co-creation and partnership is so unique and important, and that in the Black and Brown community we often feel unheard, unseen, not recognized so being in an initiative that we feel like we belong makes a really big difference.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you for adding that, Mia, and for the prompt, Bryn. Claudia, please.

Claudia Aristy: Well, I just wanted to circle a little bit back to what Bryn had mentioned in terms of the dynamics within our own parent leader group, and how it was a process in the very beginning to get to know each other, to build that trust that we’re talking about that parents might be lacking in us or in an institution or whoever they think we’re representing.

But we also had to be able to build that trust among ourselves because we would be spending a lot of time together, and the way that this was set up, and Bryn has been really wonderful in being the moderator and such a wonderful guide for us, in helping us build that connection early on with each other because that was important too. That would be the glue that can hold us together in bringing then our perspective and feeling this is a space that’s safe not only for us to bring our thoughts about the whole process but also then to bring what we were hearing from our families because we felt that this would be a space where it would be honored, right?

I think that was—I don’t want to say a challenge but it was definitely a process, and with ups and downs along the whole way. We have learned a lot from each other, not only from the parents but I think each of the parent leaders brings such a unique perspective, I mean all of learning from the parents and from my colleagues in the group.

The other challenge that I would say for me that I remember in the very beginning is when you hear about early relational health as Becky was saying, maybe it’s a new term but it’s not something new. When you have something that at the same time it seems so simple but it’s so complex, sometimes it can be lost. It’s like people say, what? What are you talking about?

So finding ways to try and place that not only into Spanish but even in English when you’re talking to people about this concept, so that they see the simplicity but at the same time that relevance and the importance doesn’t get lost because it’s so simple because it has so many deep layers, so many different areas of development of these young children that we’re talking about and in the families as well.

So I just want to bring that perspective as well because the hope is that one day everybody will say early relational health, of course, and no one is questioning what it is but in this point, we’re still building that momentum. We find that even among our own colleagues who work with parents and when you say, hmm, it has been really interesting to see what people perceive might be the importance or the layers that I was talking about earlier.

Bryn Fortune: I just want to add something to what Claudia said. Nicole is our parent leader who has represented the Native American voice, and our original leader was a gal by the name of Christina from the Diné people, a Navajo reservation in Arizona, and in the very earliest stages both Claudia and Christina came back from those very earliest, early relational health questions, in both communities it was resounding they said, wow, you’re finally catching up to what we’ve always known so the cultural wisdom from these ancient traditions really even began to show through right in the beginning, and why bringing the different cultures, how we all get to learn together.

Becky Jaques Hasak: I’ll just quickly pick up. Claudia, what you shared resonates so much with the work that we’ve been looking at a national level both in, of course, as we’re promoting a movement around early relational health, everything we do needs to center relationship and connection. That doesn’t come easy sometimes, right? And so we are so intentional in kind of every way we set up meetings, conversations, to create that space where people can share and be vulnerable and trust, and I guess unfortunately our country gives us a lot of opportunities of current events and news where these things like the overturning of Roe v. Wade or the Uvalde, Texas school shooting, these things hit us at a very personal deep level, and throughout our meetings with the steering committee we’ve been able to open up space to reflect on these really difficult current events which I think help create more of that vulnerability, that trust, that safe space with our members which has been really critical to the trust-built relationship that we have today.

And then similarly, Claudia, as we’re thinking about the national tent that we’re trying to create where anyone can find their seat or their place within this, who care about young kids and families, early relational health is another term. It’s another something for the field that already feels crowded, and people have their issue that they care about, that they’re advocating for, that they’re getting resources for to implement so how do we create a network and a growing movement that doesn’t feel competitive, that feels collaborative, that feels welcoming and inclusive, and feels generative to be a part of. I see that as an ongoing challenge for us to ensure that we are driving with equity, parent voice, etc., but in a way that others can find themselves here and see, OK, there’s points of connection, collaboration, and that we’re really doing this in hopes to accelerate the impact that each and every one of us have. I think that’s going to be an ongoing challenge for us as we continue to grow this initiative and this network.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you all. This has been wonderful to hear about the breadth of work and the depth of work that you all have been engaging in when it comes to parent leadership and early relational health. Can you tell us about where this work is headed next? What is on the horizon for Nurture Connection?

Becky Jaques Hasak: Yes, we’re so excited. We just went through a fantastic planning process with the perspectives of the steering committee and the Family Network Collaborative. The first year was really about what is this thing, what is the vision for it, how is it structured, what are we trying to do collectively together. So we’ve set a strategic plan, a vision, a mission. We’ve launched a website so now we’re really entering into year two of this initiative which is really exciting.

Really our core goals over the next year are to raise awareness of Nurture Connection and early relational health as Claudia said so everyone knows now like, oh, yeah, early relational health, of course, right? So we’re really putting out a lot of content, really pushing through our website, through our social channels this issue of early relational health, the impact that it has, and Nurture Connection as that broader network or initiative pushing that movement forward, and we’re looking to grow our network.

So we are interested in others coming to join us in this collective work that we’re doing. Again, anyone who is working on behalf of young kids and families, please come join us. Visit our website, shoot us a note. We’d love to hear about the work that others are doing in this space and figure out how we might join together, learn from each other, collaborate in this. It’s really about raising awareness and growing our network, our core two goals over the coming year.

Bryn Fortune: I’ll follow up by answering in order to keep up our parent partnership, what we know in the coming year and it’s actually part of our challenge, it’s both, is we know we’re going to seed another pod. We think of this FNC, the Family Network Collaborative, as one pod. We know, of course, there’s so many underrepresented, unheard voices, that we know in this growing to always have this parent partnership around, and in good centering ways we need to expand our resources of families, and so we’ll build another pod but I think we are definitely—the field is quite interested in this model. We’re getting a lot of reaching in to us about this particular model of partnership, and so I think it’s calling us to a place of, OK, how are we going to grow in the speed that is sort—this thing is taking off and I don’t mean just this model, Nurture Connection is taking off so both the model and Nurture Connection is sort of in its own growth speed, and it’s frankly one of our challenges how we’re going to—I’m confident we will navigate our way through this tension as well but it is a tension to think about how we’re going to keep up with all of it, and keep the quality in place.

I just want to add a tad because it so happens, Jennifer tagged me and I so appreciate, she’s tracking pieces, that I had mentioned all of our parent leaders or five of our six parent leaders, and I really want to take a moment to also talk about Allysa is our parent representative who represents children with special health needs and disabilities, and she too brings this wonderful contribution into how that community thinks. She’s sometimes our voice who reminds us of, woo. We talk about eye contact that happened yesterday in a meeting we were in and the importance of early eye contact, and her bringing that voice in this. Some of our children have autism and they can’t do that, how can we put a tagline so that we’re normalizing, oh, if this isn’t happening, this is a good thing to ask your clinician about so I just want to raise that because every one of these voices, I could spend a whole hour on a podcast telling you the unique things each of these communities have brought that is so important to how we’re being these gentle disrupters to the way the work is happening, and really shifting some of the power structures in beautiful ways.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you for that, Bryn. Claudia or Mia, anything else you would like to share with the group before we wrap up?

Claudia Aristy: I think in terms of my connection also with Reach Out and Read, for example, what’s happening now and it will continue to happen in the future in relation because to Nurture Connection and early relational health, it’s Reach Out and Read is a partner, and it has taken an interest in seeing– traditionally Reach Out and Read started at six months, and now they’re saying, no, we need to start this earlier, that that’s a part of early relational health, right? How can through our organism of Reach Out and Read and this network of pediatricians and nurse practitioners and other clinicians who are applying the Reach Out and Read model, how can we integrate this concept of early relational health, and they have taken the step of revising their training for providers, for the doctors, and sending it out to the entire nationwide community and saying you need to take the training again because this is important and we have a new component, and looking at everything including from their marketing and all of the materials that they might have to be able to integrate this wonderful concept. Reach Out and Read has been doing all alone, connecting families to their babies just using this wonderful tool which is a book but how can we then take ownership of and the responsibility of joining forces with the movement in creating even more awareness and making sure that people stop to think about this, notice, and want to join, and want to participate and say “how can I also be part of this wonderful movement.”

Mia Halthon-Jones: I want to say I’m just so excited about moving forward, and some of the things I’m excited about. I’m excited that, the website has launched, and so now I have a place to direct my community and my families to go and get a better understanding of the work. Excited and looking forward to the community partnership and initiative around early relational health that I’m sure is coming soon, and then the social channels and social media, and things that come out of it like being on this great podcast and being able to share Nurture Connection and early relational health works.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Mia, Claudia, Becky, and Bryn, thank you so much for joining me today. It has been an honor and a pleasure to learn from and with you today so thank you so much, and we will all be sure to follow Nurture Connection going forward.

Becky Jaques Hasak: Thanks, Jen.

Claudia Aristy: Thank you.

(Outro) And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes for this episode.

We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the past, present, and futures of these tribes.

The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.

And for those interested in more learning events, registration is now open for our upcoming online workshops happening in June and July.

On June 21 and 22, we are hosting the workshop, Introduction to Collective Impact and the Backbone Role, which will go over the foundations of collective impact, and is a great workshop if you are new to thinking about collective impact work.

And on July 11 and 13, we are hosting the workshop Data and Learning in Collective Impact, which will be taking a deep dive into the various practices you can do to support data and learning within your collaborative work.

Please visit our events section of to learn more and register.

This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast host. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, we hope you are safe and well.


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