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RWJF awards Health Federation of Philadelphia $4.8M to fund community efforts on early childhood adversity and resilience

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 3.40.37 PMThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded the Health Federation of Philadelphia $4.8 million to invest in promising community-level collaborative efforts that aim to reduce the prevalence and impact of early childhood adversity and to promote family and community resilience.


The project is called the Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC Project). The project staff and advisors will fund 10 to 12 communities -- rural and urban, large and small cities, counties, regions, and states -- with "well-established coalitions and partnerships that have a demonstrated history of working together to reduce childhood adversity and promote resilience", according to the media release. The communities that are chosen will join a two-year learning collaborative where they support each other and share their findings.


The media release announcing the grant today noted that a "growing body of research in epidemiology, neurobiology and epigenetics has clearly demonstrated that exposure to early childhood adversity -- such as child abuse, neglect, or community violence -- can derail the normal development of young bodies and brains and directly lead to poor health later in life." It referred to the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) -- which has spawned ACE surveys in 28 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. cities -- that shows how common childhood adversity is (one-half to two-thirds of the population experiences at least one major type of childhood trauma), and how childhood trauma is directly linked to the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.


"Solutions that prevent and heal any exposure to childhood trauma and promote resilience of children and families are essential to building a 'Culture of Health', the overarching vision of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation," according to the media release. 


“We are grateful to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for their investment in this work and for their recognition that there can be no Culture of Health without preventing or mitigating the impact of childhood adversity and trauma,” said Natalie Levkovich, CEO of the Health Federation.  “We see this project as key to fueling a national movement aimed at finding and spreading effective strategies to support the healthy development of children, families, and communities.”


A "backbone" or consortium will receive the funding, but the established collaborative will define its community. "Funding can support the collaborative to expand, test new strategies, hire staffing, convene a local ACEs summit, conduct an ACEs study, etc.," says Leslie Lieberman, director of the Multiplying Connections Initiative in Philadelphia, a collaborative that's part of the Health Federation. Multiplying Connections provides trauma-informed services for children in Philadelphia and translates the ACEs research into practice. "The goal is to learn whether, with a modest investment, a community can move their work on this issue forward. So the community will define its plan, use the support and share what they learn through the process."


"This funding seeks to add timely and critical support to accelerate the momentum of this movement as well as to learn about and share innovative ways that communities are using the adverse childhood experiences framework to address violence and trauma," according to the release. 


Although about a dozen communities will be directly supported by the grant, says Lieberman, "we also would be interested in having a limited number of other communities who are not supported but meet the criteria to participate in the learning collaborative."


Communities will have to demonstrate that they have well-established and broad-based partnerships already engaged in ACEs and resilience work, and a clear plan for how the MARC Project support will help them advance their work, says Lieberman. And they will also need to be interested in openly sharing their learning --  what works and what doesn't work -- through the learning collaborative and in public forums. 


She expects the application process to start in Spring 2015, with communities receiving funding late Summer/early Fall 2015.


According to the media release, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation chose the Health Federation of Philadelphia to manage the MARC Project because of the organization's "long history of convening partnerships and its deep expertise and national recognition in the field of trauma-informed practice,  as a provider of innovative models of trauma treatment and as a consultant to numerous organizations and systems integrating trauma informed practice change."  The Health Federation of Philadelphia is the home to the Multiplying Connections Initiative and more recently to the Philadelphia ACEs Task Force.  Both efforts have built strong coalitions focused on local prevention of childhood adversity and promotion of resilience. The Health Federation of Philadelphia recently partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to produce the Community Resilience Cookbook, an online resource that profiles five cities and four states engaged in the work of preventing/treating trauma and promoting resilience. 


For additional information about the MARC Project and the Health Federation’s work on trauma informed practice, please contact Leslie Lieberman at


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