Building a better future for Durham’s kids – Sharon Hirsch and David Reese

Sharon Hirsch and David Reese
Sharon Hirsch and David Reese

As our city undergoes a renaissance, it’s hard not to observe this explosion of development and wonder what awaits future generations. Who will live and work in these spaces? Are Durham’s children healthy, educated and truly prepared to inherit all that we are creating for them?

Just 10 minutes east of downtown, another revitalization is underway – this time in one of Durham’s most underserved neighborhoods. Over the last six years, the East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) and more than 40 partners have invested millions of dollars to build a holistic continuum of services that supports children from birth through high school graduation. Here are some of the impressive results they’ve helped children and families achieve recently:

▪ 93 percent of students at the EDCI LEAP Academy preschool have graduated ready for kindergarten based on the Kindergarten Observation Form, a school readiness assessment.

▪ Kindergarteners with an EDCI Early Childhood Parent Advocate had significantly better literacy skills at the end of the school year than children without an advocate.

▪ Parentswith an EDCI Elementary School Parent Advocate reported spending significantly more time each week helping their children with homework and attending school meetings.

▪ Since EDCI began implementation in 2011, rates of accepted child maltreatment reports in the EDCI Zone have declined, suggesting a positive impact of the EDCI ecosystem on this critical indicator of child wellbeing.

▪ The longer children are enrolled in EDCI, the better their early literacy scores and attendance.

Not surprisingly, among EDCI and its partners’ most impactful programs are those that engage children and their parents soon after birth. Early childhood brain development and experiences are foundational to lifelong health and economic success. Stable, nurturing relationships and environments help prevent abuse and neglect and help children grow up safe, healthy and academically proficient.

EDCI also works closely with parents to cultivate Protective Factors that reduce the risk for child abuse and neglect, including social and emotional competence, parenting skills, social connections, resilience, and concrete supports for families in times of need. Via home visits and educational workshops, EDCI Parent Advocates help families develop these skills and also connect them to needed resources and services.

Six years of EDCI evaluation data – tracked annually by Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy – only reinforces the widely accepted research about what works best for families. EDCI’s innovative efforts to provide services to families, build partnerships, and align systems is an established, effective model for helping children and families succeed.

With National Child Abuse Prevention Month drawing to close, our urgent call to Durham is to create a citywide system of supports, like the EDCI pipeline in East Durham, for all of our children. If we fail to proactively invest in the success of children, the glittering promise of downtown’s rising skyline will be lost.

Sharon Hirsch is the president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. David Reese is the president and CEO of the East Durham Children’s Initiative.