Growing Up Healthy: Kids and Communities is a statewide grantmaking initiative of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation to improve the health of Minnesota’s children through a focus on social and environmental determinants of health. The goal of Growing Up Healthy: Kids and Communities is to build strong and connected communities where children can thrive and grow up healthy by working at the intersection of health and two or more of the following health determinants: early childhood development; stable, affordable housing; and the physical environment. Growing Up Healthy: Kids and Communities is designed to help communities work across sectors in new ways to create an environment that nurtures the healthy growth and development of children under the age of five.
Research shows that early childhood development (birth through age five) is a health determinant and sets the stage for a healthy, productive adulthood. High quality early learning experiences lead to better school performance, better social skills, lower juvenile crime and smoking rates, and higher earning potential as adults. Secure attachments in early childhood create the foundation for a secure base in later life, improving resilience, social competence and confidence.
Children need a healthy environment. Their rapid growth and smaller size make them more vulnerable to environmental threats. Their normal behavior patterns place them at even greater risk from some toxins. Scientific evidence increasingly indicates a relationship between a range of environmental factors and a variety of diseases and conditions such as asthma, autism, birth defects, some cancers, developmental disabilities, diabetes and others. One important contributor may be increased exposure to the wide array of chemical substances including synthetic chemicals, compounds, metals and related elements such as lead, mercury and arsenic, as well as other pollutants in food, water, and air. The Institute of Medicine, recognizing the link between chemical and human health, emphasizes the importance of minimizing environmental exposures to “chemical and physical hazards in homes, communities and workplaces such as contaminated water, soil and air.”
Safe, affordable housing is critical for children to grow up healthy. Safe housing helps protect children from many health conditions, including asthma, anemia, lead poisoning, mold allergies and respiratory infections. It also means being safe from injury and violence. Affordable housing promotes stability. Children in stable housing situations are less likely to change schools frequently, perform better in school and have better prospects for educational achievement later in life.
Growing Up Healthy: Kids and Communities will improve children’s health by supporting culturally appropriate, community-based partnerships that focus on the connections between health and early childhood development, safe and affordable housing, and the environment. Priority is given to projects that address the needs of children of color and children living in poverty. The Foundation has a special interest in projects that originate from and work with Native American communities, where significant socioeconomic and health disparities exist.
Planning grants up to $25,000 are available. Through the planning process, funded organizations and their community partners will develop a shared vision of how to improve and protect the health of children through place-based projects (neighborhood, town, region) that address health and at least two of the three determinants: early childhood education, housing and the environment.
At the end of the planning period grantees that have developed a community vision, supported by a written implementation plan, may apply for implementation funding for a period of up to three years. To receive an implementation grant, projects must show broad-based community support, demonstrate innovative approaches and articulate how these approaches will result in healthier communities and children.
Projects should reflect the initiative’s four objectives:
The Foundation recognizes that building healthy communities that nurture the healthy development of children is an ongoing process. Intermediate indicators that will lead to successful long-term outcomes include:
Evaluation and shared learning are important elements of the grant program. Funded organizations will budget up to10 percent of their grant funds to evaluating their program.
Program evaluation is an important learning tool valued by the Foundation. Shared learning enables grantees to learn from each other through convenings and other activities scheduled throughout the grant period. An independent evaluator will work collaboratively with grantees and their project-level evaluators to develop a common evaluation plan and tools for collecting, reporting and comparing data across projects. Because building broad-based community support and partnerships are central to the success of this work, the ability of communities to implement and sustain both action plans and the partnerships over time are important measures of success.
We believe that improving the health of Minnesota’s communities will require the collective efforts of many—community members along with nonprofit, government and business sectors, working together to ensure that all our children grow up healthy.