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Building Resiliency through Joyful+Together: An Early Childhood Parent-Child Engagement Intervention

Joy experienced through play increases resiliency, and Joyful+Together gives caregivers a new way, free and evidence based way to do so.

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Written by

Name or Organization



Ohio- Northeast to Central Ohio; Main Offices outside of Cleveland

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • Non - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Joyful+Together© programming provides an approachable springboard for caregivers to experience joy with their young children to build resiliency and a strong stress response system.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Toxic stress negatively impacts the entire body, especially the brain in early childhood. Decreased brain size, plasticity, hemispheric interconnection; and alterations to the body’s stress response system are but a few detriments of toxic stress that interrupt development and optimal functional capacities. These negative outcomes solidify the necessity of limiting stress and increasing resiliency in early childhood. We assert that resiliency can be developed through natural mechanisms based on affective neuroscience processes that lead to joy: CARE (secure attachment) and PLAY (social).

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Childhood toxic stress occurs in response to prolonged, adverse experiences without adequate adult support and social-emotional capacities. Research consistently demonstrates childhood toxic stress as a detrimental impediment to development and functioning- and even leads to comorbidities and early mortality. Research also demonstrates that enhancing protective factors, or building resiliency in children dampens the effects of toxic stress- and can even insulate and prepare for future stressors

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Joyful+Together© programming provides an approachable springboard for caregivers to experience joy with their young children. The activities are designed to model and prompt play with caregiver and child, offering introductory directions, but leaving space for unique applications for optimal segueing into families’ lifestyles and cultural values. Increased play and subsequent impacts on parent stress and childhood resiliency were observed in parent-child participants of a pilot randomized trial evaluating the effectiveness of Joyful+Together© implementation in early childhood mental health and home visiting programs. Efforts to expand this level of impact should be disseminated among other early childhood advocates and policymakers. We propose a larger scale research protocol with a training and consultation model be implemented in more early childhood programs. Home visiting programs for prenatal and early care, early childhood education programs and even elementary schools should implement this strategy. Research has established that resiliency protects against toxic stress and is enhanced by stable relationships and through play and joyful experiences (especially with loved ones). Why do parents and caregivers need to be equipped or instructed on playing with their young children? Many reasons may exist- busy schedules, high or toxic stress levels in parents, ignorance of impact of play- but what matters is facilitating opportunities for parents and caregivers to infuse their daily activities with joy and play. Play doesn’t require a certain location, timing, or even objects. Play can be done for short or extended durations and nearly anywhere. With life’s demands, sometimes it is forgotten how easy and beneficial play is. The joy intervention activities’ effect is being tested among caregivers and children randomized to a treatment or control group. Treatment group caregivers will include joy interventions in their daily routines with their child; control group caregivers will be introduced to Joy-FULL! after 6-weeks of standard delivery of services and complete a mid-point round of post-assessment and salivary cortisol sample collection, to be followed by post-assessment and sample collection after receiving approximately 6-weeks of Joy-FULL! intervention. Both groups will complete assessments: Parent Stress Index (PSI-4), Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA), Devereux Student Strengths Assessment-mini (DESSA-mini); and salivary cortisol collection. We expect: Caregivers in the treatment group to show greater improvement than the waitlist control group on their Parenting Stress Index (PSI-4 SF) scores after approximately 6 weeks. -and- Caregivers in the waitlist control group to show improvement on their final PSI-4 SF scores compared to their pre- and mid scores. -and- Children in the treatment group to show greater improvement than the waitlist control group on their Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) and Devereux Student Strengths Assessment-mini (DESSA-mini); scores after approximately 6 weeks. -and- Children in the waitlist control group to show improvement on their final DECA and DESSA-mini scores compared to their pre- and mid scores. -and- Caregivers and Children in the treatment group to show a significant difference in salivary cortisol levels after approximately 6 weeks. -and- Caregivers and Children in the waitlist control group to show differences between their final salivary cortisol levels compared to their pre- and mid- sample levels.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Children, families, caregivers, health care (mental and physical) providers and researchers will benefit. The long-lasting impact of toxic stress requires strategies that can be implemented across occupations, and include caregivers and those at the community level that serve as caregivers. We have been in operation for over 150 years serving children, families and communities. Our early childhood mental health (ECMH) programming was one of the earliest ECMH programs, and serves as a prototype throughout Ohio for implementation and evaluation of early childhood programs.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Our approach to fight toxic stress is informed by affective neuroscience; particularly positive affective processes that lead to joy: CARE (secure attachment) and PLAY (social interactions). Joy, a strong surge of euphoric feeling, elicits physiological changes which promotes seeking of even more CARE and PLAY. This positive feedback loop demonstrates the strength of relationships’ impact on playing; and safely establishing and practicing key skills such as planning, monitoring and behavior modification. These skills, executive functioning skills, are captured in the definition of resiliency: ability to plan, monitor and regulate behavior and adapt to changing circumstances. Understanding even these basic benefits underscores the need to implement programming that boosts parent-child engagement in joyful activities together.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Poverty is one of the key contributors to the risk of childhood adversity and toxic stress. By creating an intervention that doesn't require a certain location or tools (e.g. playground, fancy toys, or electronics) and promotes use during crucial non-kid friendly times (e.g. during transportation, doctor's appointments, classrooms) we make this accessible. Many interventions have a cost to them, either a lot of time, a certain location or literally money. We want Joyful+Together (the listing of over 100 starter activities) to be made free and available to use anywhere, anytime via a mobile app, key ring flash cards, and mini diaper/kid bag books (e.g. board book).

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

It's a new approach to parenting and childhood caregiver support that isn't telling them everything else they have been doing is wrong. We don't focus on 'perfect parenting' or 'perfect teachers/caregivers'. We focus on both children and caregivers, using the most recent neuroscience to inform our processes, and provide a spring board for families to integrate their own cultural values and preferred way of engaging each other. Additionally, implementation of this program into childhood and family services doesn't present as "we're right, you're wrong." Joyful+Together itself is an engagement tool; therefore introduction and integration into service models helps engage clients and other end users because offers deference and appreciates individuals, and builds relationships

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Incorporation into more early childhood programs throughout Ohio, and nationwide, would allow us to impact a significant amount of users. Some of our desired products, such as a board book, key ring set of activities and a mobile app, would be very far reaching thanks to modern day technology. Our largest barrier is cost: both to continue testing the impact of the intervention, as well as develop and publish the tools.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

We are currently running a pilot research protocol that tests the bio-psychological impacts, but also how parents react and use the starter activities. This pilot is running for approximately 6 months (through August 2018). Data analysis is expected to demonstrate the level of changes in protective factors (i.e. those that lead to increased resiliency), changes in the stress response system functioning (i.e. cortisol level changes), as well as qualitative feedback of the activities themselves (weekly calendar captures which activities were used and when; and feedback from famililes).

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

Considering that products for children and parents are constantly on the market, and on-going professional development expectations and opportunities presented to childcare professionals- we believe that this expansion to services and associated products will be attractive. Barriers that we see in addition to the above-noted, include funding to travel to stakeholder organizations that could benefit from implementation of this intervention model and production of supporting products.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

We have built this intervention around the many mountains and duties of parenthood by asking: what can we provide to parents with busy lives, caring for children, that doesn't have a high cost, is applicable to all types of living, can be done on the go (easily), and also benefits parents/caregivers? Parents and caregivers of young children need as many all inclusive and easy-to-do and access ideas and tools. We believe Joyful+Together does just that by providing something that can be done anywhere, at anytime, and is no to low-cost. Joyful+Together© programming provides an approachable springboard for caregivers to experience joy with their young children. The activities are designed to model and prompt play with caregiver and child, offering introductory directions, but leaving space for unique applications for optimal segueing into families’ lifestyles and cultural values.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

This idea grew in response to training curricula we built and facilitated throughout Ohio on the impacts of toxic stress in childhood. And since our organization has a strong history and ever growing programs and services for early childhood, we began to seek out answers on how to prevent and respond to toxic stress and the situations in life that most lead to lifelong impacts in children and families. Considering that our work is heavily informed by interpersonal psychology, affective neuroscience and integrated health- we knew the benefit of engaging parents and caregivers in joy-based activities with their children (CARE and PLAY lead to joy; which builds executive functioning skills; which are the definition of resilience).

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

We need guidance with who to partner with for our product ideas. We believe that the Ohio Department of Health is one of our top in-state targets, with Zero to Three being an example of a national target we want to partner with.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Who to partner with and product development.

Would you like mentoring support? [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

  • Yes

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Benjamin W. Kearney, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer at OhioGuidestone. Ben is a dedicated advocate for clients’ behavioral and mental health concerns. He has provided a multitude of trainings on child and adolescent behavioral and mental health, many focused on quality of life improvement within and beyond residential placement and treatment.

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

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