To reduce poverty and expand economic prosperity in Cuyahoga County by investing in efforts that help disadvantaged families ensure that every child gets a strong start in life.

The Strong Start Strategy grew out of the Distribution Committee’s and staff’s interest in having a deeper impact through the grantmaking that is limited by virtue of budget constraints. We were inspired to learn about how we might become more strategic and proactive while still remaining true to the Bruening’s interests of serving those most in need.

The strategy development process included reviewing the foundation’s grantmaking history, interviewing experts in the community (funders, providers and public system actors), and digging into literature in that field. A review of our past grantmaking revealed that education-focused grants have always been the largest area of our grantmaking and that this area of concentration resonated strongly with Distribution Committee members and staff.

Initially, the topic of early literacy and parents’ roles in its development piqued our interest. As we began to digest the information published in the field of early childhood development, though, we quickly understood that successful interventions in the early years of life affect more than just good lifelong literacy. We were heavily influenced by brain research that shows that neural connections for different brain activities develop sequentially, which means that babies need visual, sensory, and language inputs in order to develop the higher cognitive functions that contribute to lifelong success. Unfortunately, not all babies receive the same quantity or quality of inputs, especially language inputs. We learned about research that shows that, by the time children are 4 years of age, children from professional families have heard 30 million more words than children from low income families. Further, Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel-prize winning economist at the University of Chicago, has shown that the economic return on investment of social and educational interventions are strongest in the earliest years, and actually begin to decrease by age 4. Much of this information and more is included in resource links below.

As we talked to those working and funding in the field of early childhood, we realized that there is a need for more funding in this area given the strong case and rewards we have mentioned above. We also understood that the Foundation would be able to partner with solid and capable organizations already delivering evidenced-based practices.

We are committed to continuing our learning process moving forward so that we can best understand how to ensure that every child gets a strong start in life.

What We Will Fund
We will not be accepting proposals for this strategy; rather, in its first stages, we will work collaboratively with 1 or 2 organizations to develop fundable projects. Cristin Slesh will be staffing the project in partnership with the rest of the Foundation Management Services staff.

We plan to develop partnerships with organizations and programs that meet our attributes for leveraged impact:

·         Deliver interventions to the youngest children, ages 0-3, and their families;

·         Work to facilitate language and social-emotional development;

·         Recognize that parents/primary caregivers are key to all outcomes and that the parent-child relationship

         is central to any intervention;

·         Utilize program evaluation techniques to generate insight into what works and why;

·         Engage in advocacy to strengthen the field;

·         Participate in collaborations that might multiply the value of investments.