Children’s Wellbeing: Two Leaders to Watch

Photo: Positive Discipline Community Resources (PDCR)

This post was written by John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend), an editor and digital strategist at Ashoka Changemakers.

Wellbeing is so important. Especially for children, who are, well, relatively new to the world. Every day, they’re taking in our global society’s rules, culture, and knowledge.

They need structure, but also: their needs for physical, emotional, and spiritual health must be met. That’s the only way for children to grow up not in fear of the unfamiliar but with an appetite for discovery. Wellbeing sparks the drive to make the world a better place for all.

The big picture is that children need more than one dimension of wellbeing to thrive. As Ashoka Fellow and Anu Family Services founder Amelia Franck Meyer says, “[children] need to know, ‘I am lovable, I am safe, I can trust other people to meet my needs.’ ”

Think about it. If you’re in good health with a strong sense of self, what’s stopping you from chasing your dreams? Not much. But without either, life can be a lot tougher.

The good news is that there are leaders across the United States who are in pursuit of making wellbeing accessible for all children. Meet two “Leaders to Watch”:

In Santa Cruz, California, the nonprofit Positive Discipline Community Resources (PDCR) prepares adult caregivers — parents, community activists, or even medical professionals — to take on the challenges of childrearing with empathy and understanding. PDCR’s training, which is accessible on a sliding scale for as little as $3, focuses on redefining discipline as instruction and guidance, not punishment. Caregiver frustration is replaced with compassion and, as a result, children grow up with confidence and self-awareness — and without violence and trauma.

“We live in a world that operates in the punishment/reward paradigm, often interacting with children from a quick-fix mentality where compliance insidiously moves in as the end goal,” Jane Weed-Pomerantz, Board President at PDCR, said. “Many children are discouraged, extrinsically motivated, for the short-term, and never have a chance to learn and develop important social and life skills.

“PDCR is a different, long-term path, raising our kids to be caring, capable and to contribute in meaningful ways.”

More than 15,000 people have enrolled in PDCR courses since they launched in 2000. Some proponents have described PDCR’s programming as “real gang prevention.”

A couple hundred miles south, in Santa Barbara, the Resiliency Project is changing the way that traditional health care providers cater to the needs of families struggling with adverse childhood experiences.

During routine checkups, for example, children are screened not just for medical needs but also for social and emotional health issues.

“If a child is determined to be high risk in this screen, they are referred to a clinic-embedded ‘Wellness Navigator,’ ” physician and program developer Monica Gross said. “The Wellness Navigator works with the family to access resources through a wellness clearinghouse that supports resiliency for the family and child.”

Many hospitals focus on physical health and curing illness, but the Resiliency Project hopes to help health care institutions address children’s wellbeing in a more holistic way. Because childhood trauma and adverse experiences are risk factors for disease and other negative consequences, which stick into adulthood, this kind of early intervention makes a lot of sense.

While the Resiliency Project is in the pilot phase, early results suggest the startup has game-changing potential. Gross and the rest of the team are looking into improving training for Wellness Navigators at Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, launching virtual resources, and making the program accessible for people on Medicaid.

Our children are our greatest assets. We need more solutions like these.

Working on something like the projects above? Know someone who is?

Enter the Children’s Wellbeing challenge, or nominate a friend, by June 22.