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Brainy Babies - Thriving Children

Change the course of a child's life by reaching parents of infants with the information, tools and support to enhance brain development.

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Name or Organization

Champions for Children - A 40-year old child-serving and family-strengthening organization in Tampa FL whose mission is to build stronger families through its child abuse prevention and family education programs. Strong Families - Thriving Children are our goals. Partners would be Enterprising Latinas; Children's Board of Hillsborough County, Wimuama Boys & Girls Club; Allegany Franciscan Ministries. Learn more at


Tampa, Florida. Our target area would be the poorest area in our 1200 sq. mile county - Wimauma.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

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

Reaching expectant and new parents with research-based information about the importance of talking and interacting with their infant from the moment of birth enables critical brain architecture to be formed. This will facilitate learning throughout the child's lifetime. Research by George Halvorson, founder of Talk - Read - Sing - Play, believes it is a million dollar gift: "The difference in average life income for people who graduate from college and that of people who drop out of school and who work for minimum wage or who are unemployed, is more than $1 MILLION per child."

Select an Innovation Target

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

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Champions for Children (CFC) aims to implement extensive services, education and parent-friendly tools and supports for parents, families and caregivers of infants 0-18 months in the poorest community in rural Hillsborough County, Florida. Why? Because new research on infant development clearly indicates babies learn from the moment of birth. In fact, they respond immediately to the mother's voice because they have heard it in utero for 9 months. Researchers have mapped infants' brain connections and the rapidity of them. Talking and making eye contact stimulates brain synapse connections to accelerate and build brain architecture, which is the basis for future learning. The positive "serve & return" interaction with an infant also builds attachment. Improved long-term learning potential is a worthy goal by itself, but parents' attachment to an infant is the first step to protection and safety of the child. And, safe, thriving children are Champions' goal! Thus, the value of educating expectant and new parents about how to interact and care for their infant yields a win-win: increased learning potential and a safe, nurturing early childhood. In areas of poverty, low education and lack of quality childcare, it is difficult to reach parents with the information they need. We hope to reach parents prenatally, upon birth and shortly after with our ABC Program's childbirth education, breastfeeding support, Baby Cafes and a community-embedded Infant Specialist.

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

Wimauma (pop. 6405) is a farmworkers community - 60% have dropped out of school, 40% are at the poverty level and 51% more are of low income; elementary students all score below the state average. Children are not succeeding academically. Because many are non-English speakers, they have additional challenges. Our goal is to change the knowledge and skills of parents and all who touch infants with education, information and tools for building brainy, safe, thriving children so they can succeed.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

PRENATAL, INFANT & PARENT SERVICES in WIMAUMA FLORIDA Champions for Children (CFC), with its 40 years of prenatal and early childhood experience, hopes to utilize its expertise to promote positive life outcomes for infants and very young children by establishing infant services in Wimauma. GOAL: Engage, educate and support parents with the knowledge and tools to build their infants brains and promote positive parent-child attachment. HOW: By hiring a full-time bilingual Infant Specialist to coordinate Champions for Children's trained staff and services and implement the TALK-READ-SING model in Wimauma. RESEARCH BASIS: George Halvorson’s work Three Key Years TALK READ PLAY SING To Support & Help Every Child in America. NATIONAL INITIATIVE: Talking is Teaching - TALK-READ-SING is a tested national initiative already in place in 12 cities. Tampa hopes to become the 13th. A successful implementation of the model in a challenging location, such as Wimauama, would make Tampa/Hillsborough County unique, yet replicable with other low income, under-served, bilingual populations. DESIRED OUTCOMES: Positive, nurturing attachment of parents and infants. Protection and safety of children. Confident parents with increased knowledge of child development and nurturing parenting. Children ready-to-learn when they enter kindergarten. Decreased social isolation of parents by building a relationship with CFC staff "Trusted Messenger" and participation in group activities with other parents. Accelerated language acquisition by infants and overall improved family literacy. Champions’ BRAINY BABIES-THRIVING CHILDREN model begins with the following basic assumptions: All parents want their children to succeed. Parents are the first teachers and primary level of support, protection, safety and growth for each child. Learning begins at birth, not at school entry. Babies with low levels of one-to-one interactions have fallen measurably behind by 18 months and tend to fall further behind by kindergarten entry. Talking, singing, reading and playing are simple interactions that have profound and direct biology-based impact by creating powerful neuron connections (brain architecture) in the infant’s brain. All children can learn. The biology is the same for all races and ethnicities. Our goal is to change the course of a child's future by changing the knowledge and skills of the parents. Champions will be embedding the national Talk-Read-Sing (TRS) messages, techniques and tools, in both English and Spanish, into its existing infant and early childhood programs, which will need to be expanded to Wimauma. Leading the expansion will be an Infant Specialist & Services Coordinator. Among expanded CFC programs will be: ABC - Childbirth education, Breastfeeding Basics, Baby Cafes. Parents as Teachers (PAT)- Bilingual home visitors will overlay TRS with prescribed PAT curriculum, plus PAT's Family Matters program and monthly group meetings. Baby Bungalow will provide Baby & Me meetings, developmental playgroups. All programs will administer Ages & Stages Questionnaires (ASQs) to children to screen for developmental delays and refer for remedial services if necessary. The Infant Specialist & Coordinator will connect with Wimauma's Enterprising Latinas and their training and certification of Child Development Associates (CDAs) and train the students in the utilization of the TRS messages. TALK-READ-SING MODEL: Change knowledge and skills of Parents! Implement a two-pronged Approach - Public Awareness (AIR CAMPAIGN) and implementation by Champions' staff and other community connectors as Trusted Messengers (GROUND CAMPAIGN). “AIR CAMPAIGN" is a public info and awareness campaign to create familiarity in the community and with parents and caregivers about the value of talking to your infant as early as possible in a child’s life. However, public awareness is not sufficient, nor is it sustainable financially or embedded in parents’ behavior. Thus, there is a “GROUND CAMPAIGN", which is Implementation of messages, resources, and education via TRUSTED MESSENGERS. Champions' strategy for implementation is to first expand its programs that already touch infants and toddlers and their parents/caregivers. Then embed TRS messages, techniques and tools into those existing programs by training CFC staff, so everyone is delivering a consistent message. Champions will utilize prenatal services of its ABC and Baby Cafes breastfeeding support groups as entry points. Parents as Teachers will overlay TRS with prescribed PAT curriculum. Parents as Teachers will utilize its Family Matters program and monthly PAT group meetings as ways to address the social isolation of parents.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The children of Wimauma are the hoped-for beneficiaries of these improved infant and parent services. But, everyone who participates in making all those positive outcomes occur benefits. This is why there is a Talk-Read-Sing public awareness and information-saturation campaign accompanying the implementation by Trusted Messengers. Talking is Teaching and the more people aware of its importance, the more positive input the child receives. Frequency and consistency of messaging becomes the "work" of parents, relatives, child caregivers and neighbors, all of whom learn about infants and their potential for success. Champions for Children has 40 years of experience working with parents of infants and very young children. In early years, the agency's name was the Child Abuse Council and its work was more deep-end treatment for abusive parents and their children. In the past 20 years, this has shifted dramatically to prevention and early intervention. Close to 20,000 adults and children are reached annually with those programs. An additional approximate 23,000 3rd and 4th graders are reached with child abuse and bullying prevention puppetry programs in the schools. Champions for Children is the leading early childhood agency in Hillsborough County with its Baby Bungalow, ABC, Parents as Teachers, Nurturing Fathers, Family Involvement Connection, Layla's House, Positive Parenting Partnership, Healthy Family and Healthy Start services. Please see the attached 2016 Impact Report.

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

Long-lasting is exactly what early brain stimulation and nurturing parenting does. A child who is safe, protected and secure in a family setting with rich vocabulary and positive interactions is destined to succeed academically, socially and, according to George Halvorson, economically. By educating parents and all who connect with a very young child about assuring these positives occur in a child's life can literally break the cycle of child abuse, neglect and/or simply not-very-good parenting. In today's digital, cellphone-dominated society, the simple act of talking and responding to one's new baby (what is known as "serve & return" interactions) gets lost. Parents are often too busy, stressed or, in some cases now, drugged. We, as a community/society, need to understand how valuable and precious our babies are. This is why the Talk-Read-Sing public awareness campaign is so impactful. The more people know how important it is to interact positively with babies - your own and others' - the more successful and thriving children we will have. Talk-Read-Sing is a two-pronged approach to changing the trajectory of an infant's life: Implementation via Trusted Messengers and the Public Awareness Campaign. By doing both, positive change is possible, and the impact is enormous - on babies, families, communities and wider. Hillsborough County is already planning how to make this happen, and Talk-Read-Sing is one of the prime strategies being considered.

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

According to the "30 Million Word Gap" study by Hart and Risley, children from lower-income families hear 30 million fewer words than children from higher income families by the time they are 4-years old. This gap becomes evident by the time a child is 18 months old, which is why it is critical to begin providing "language nutrition" as soon as the baby is born. That 18-month identifiable gap only continues to widen. Too often, a child whose language and vocabulary are underdeveloped enters school not ready to learn and, in most cases, never catches up. Thus, economic poverty often includes language-poverty. If a child is not ready to learn when he/she enters kindergarten and then not reading on grade-level by 3rd grade, he will not be able to "read to learn", which is the third grade turning point. This is why intentionally reaching children living in poverty and equipping their parents as early as possible with tools and supports to talk to their child to build their brain are so vitally important. And, interestingly, it doesn't matter what language the parents use! Enriched vocabulary will transfer and/or translate to another language (Spanish to English) as the child learns and grows. It is the brain stimulation of the early infancy interactions that produces Brainy Babies-Thriving Children.

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

Under the leadership of the Hillsborough County School Superintendent, a large, inclusive community conversation is occurring right now. With only 48% of Hillsborough's entering kindergartners scoring Ready-to-Learn, the data caught his and the entire community's attention. An overarching Early Childhood Community Organization is being created. It will be comprised of representatives of child and family systems, local businesses, foundations, agencies, PTA, and parent organizations. Work Groups have been formed. Talk-Read-Sing has been identified as one of the primary tools that could be implemented across the county. Hillsborough County's School District is the 8th largest in the country. With only 48% of our children testing ready-to-learn when they enter kindergarten, anything that improves that situation is a plus. However, funding will probably hinder widespread implementation. There will be targeted neighborhood schools whose children test even lower when entering kindergarten. Wimauma Elementary School is one of those. That, and other reasons, make Wimauma a natural target community for Champions for Children to pilot an intensive Infant-Parent Program and utilize Talk-Read-Sing and its major tools for engaging parents. If successful, the project could be a model for other struggling neighborhoods and their schools. The key is reaching parents and giving them the knowledge, confidence and supports to change the course of their children's lives.

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

To celebrate Champions for Children's 40th anniversary, we held a conference. The key themes were preventing child abuse by strengthening families via Protective Factors and reaching families at the earliest stage in the child's life - at birth. Concurrently, a community leader had brought the national initiative of Talking is Teaching - Talk-Read-Sing (sponsored by the Opportunity Institute and the Too Small to Fail Foundation) to our attention. Because of Champions' network of services, number of young families reached and partnerships with other early childhood agencies, we began researching Talk-Read-Sing. With the support of the Junior League of Tampa, we held two community conversations post-conference on Next Steps. Talk-Read-Sing (TRS) was selected as the best way to begin reaching parents with infants and very young children and improve their life-outcomes. Champions then decided to pursue an internal pilot project to learn the effects of both the Community Awareness TRS Campaign and the Implementation via Trusted Messengers by embedding TRS principles and tools into existing Champions' programs. However, the work of the larger community early childhood organization underscored the low kindergarten readiness and graduation rates, both of which are definitely connected. The additional news was that Hillsborough County's dual-language learners had even lower scores. Thus, the idea of doing an outreach project in Wimauma, a rural farmworking community with high levels of poverty and large numbers of children at-risk for academic failure, became more compelling. However, we need to the resources to make this happen. The need, the "will" and the expertise to do a infant-centered project with parents are present. Unfortunately, the funding is not. Latest census statistics indicate there were 785 children under the age of 5 in Wimauma. With funds to proceed, Champions' prenatal and parent engagement and education programs could jump-start this program, . With the community's recognition of the need to reach children early to change their chances of success, the opportunity for financial and programmatic sustainability is positive.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

I have been involved in child welfare services as a volunteer, staff and leader for the past 40 years. As one of the founders of the Child Abuse Council, now Champions for Children, protecting children has been what motivates me. Within Champions, I helped found Baby Bungalow and Layla's House and was responsible for obtaining Parents as Teachers as one of our earliest prevention and early childhood-focused programs and then acted as Program Director. I chaired the transition of Hillsborough County's child welfare system to community-based care. I also have been board chair of the Children Home and founded The Ophelia Project for girls. My undergraduate degree is from Duke, and I have a Master's in Guidance and Counseling from University of South Florida. As a long-time resident of Tampa and mother of 5, grandmother of 12, I have lots of personal early childhood experience (!), but I am deeply committed to help providing every child with the opportunity to be safe, thrive and be successful. The idea of working with the children in Wimauma comes from my relationship with and support of Enterprising Latinas. As an integral and active leader of the Wimauma Cares community movement, Enterprising Latinas has reached women (mothers!) with job training and placement in the area of childcare and early childhood education. The idea of marrying child welfare, early literacy, school readiness and economic stability for Wimauma women has captured my imagination and enthusiasm. With appropriate funding and resources, we can do great things for children and families in Wimauma, and it can become a model for other communities in the nation. I am hopeful!

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We have all the partners we need. The key will be organizing and coordinating them and the resources they offer. Priorities and timing, based upon funding, will have to be set by a planning team. Champions has experience with this via its multiple contracts and funders. Tentative planning is already underway. As the identified "anchor agency" for Talk-Read-Sing in Hillsborough County and the community conversations we have already engaged in, Champions for Children will be ready to proceed once secure funding is in place.

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)

If anyone has planned, launched and/or implemented a Talking is Teaching/Talk-Read-Sing program in a largely Hispanic small community, I would be interested in learning more about how they did it. Building up other communities' "lessons learned" is always very helpful.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

At this point, Champions for Children has established a Talk-Read-Sing internal Leadership Team and we are in conversation and planning with partner agencies, funders and the larger Early Childhood Community organization that is forming. We also have tremendous resources and guidance we can obtain from the School District and our Hillsborough County Children's Board and other partners. This is a community rich in experience, expertise and caring. Partnering and sharing information and resources are part of our community culture. On the other hand, if there is someone with experience in implementing and obtaining funding for a community Talk-Read-Sing project, I would love to hear about their successes and challenges. Also, implementing a dual-language Talk-Read-Sing and/or other intensive infant-parent project in mixed communities would be helpful. I am always eager to learn from others and build upon their experiences and successes and avoid their disappointment and/or negative outcomes.

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

  • Yes, share my contact information


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