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PACEs Connection Cooperative of Communities

Building Resilience is a Team Effort that Starts Early


“YES!” was the response of Gaile Osborne, executive director of Foster Family Alliance of North Carolina (FFANC), when asked for input on a new program to help foster and kinship care families learn how to support the brain development of young children.

Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.54.42 PM“I love these Brain Insights materials. How soon can we start?” said Osborne upon receiving the "The First 60 Days” booklet on myths about newborns and their caregivers and the eight “Neuro-Nurturing” ringed books.

The materials delivered through a program created by PACEs Connection will support parents in “Neuro-Nurturing” – providing the consistent love, healthy touch, connection, and attention proven to support healthy brain development – for ages newborn through five, beginning with secure attachment in the early months and covering overall optimal development throughout the series. The four areas in the model for "Neuro-Nurturing" are physical needs, security, nurturing, and play.

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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s (Blue Cross NC’s) Healthy Blue Medicaid plan provided funding to offer these materials, as one component of several years of programming designed to support families and caregivers.

“Healthy Blue has been a terrific partner since 2021," said Carey Sipp, director of strategic partnerships for PACEs Connection.

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Part of this funding enabled six North Carolina counties to join the PACEs Connection Cooperative of Communities, which offers peer-to-peer support, a monthly training and think tank for its member communities, and purchase of the materials for the FFANC program.

"We decided we could help children and families best by supporting caregivers."

Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.37.43 PM “The first year of the work was during the pandemic. We held a focus group with some Department of Social Service (DSS) county-level supervisors and caseworkers and other family-supporting professionals from several counties to see how we could best achieve the objectives, and we decided we could help children and families best by supporting caregivers. The stress caregivers were under was intense. Our efforts to promote the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) training was very well received by DSS professionals,” said Sipp.

“With Healthy Blue’s support, we decided to share the CRM training widely, as it is designed to help create more ‘trauma-informed’ and ‘resiliency-focused’ communities by helping members of the communities learn how, when stressed, to self-regulate and co-regulate,” said Sipp.

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“The CRM training gives community members a common understanding of the impact of trauma and chronic stress on the nervous system. It also helps people see how the ability to bounce back – resiliency – can be restored or increased using this skills-based approach. We wanted families as well as “helping professionals” to better understand the impact of different types of stress and experience the healing power of learning how to regulate their nervous systems, help others regulate their nervous systems. Participants learn more about the power of compassion, especially self-compassion, that they can share with the children,” said Sipp.

Ultimately, more than 700 people in the six North Carolina counties received some training on the model, and 18 people – including one or two from each county – took the week-long CRM training so they could continue to share it in their communities.

“Overview sessions of one to three hours were shared with DSS workers, Foster Family Alliance members, guardians ad litem, and other groups. We wanted a cross-sector group from each community – people in education, communities of faith, healthcare, law enforcement, mental health, family support, childcare, and more – to have it,” said Sipp.

Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 8.21.52 PM “Some of the foster parents took the week-long training so they could become certified to become CRM teachers as well. We even have one mother, whose son wasn’t old enough for the training but will take it as soon as he is old enough, plan to become a mother-son training team. The mom has since been able to adopt her son, who practices and shares the skills informally with friends. They will likely share the training together as soon as the son is old enough to be certified, ” said Sipp.

This year’s work began with sending a questionnaire to foster families to gauge their interest in participating and receiving the Brain Insights materials.

“This deeper dive into learning about the brain – and how being supportive of the child’s developing brain can lead to better relational health – was of great interest to the families. We were flooded with responses – 165 surveys were returned in the first 16 hours after it was sent,” said Sipp.

Packages with the materials will soon be received by the first 165 parents to respond. All parents who are members of the Foster Family Alliance are also eligible to participate in a series of webinars taught by the author of the materials, early brain development specialist and founder of Brain Insights, Deborah McNelis.

Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 9.47.38 PM“My entire career has been built on a passion for adults to understand what contributes best for children to reach their full potential – each as a beautifully unique individual. When adults learn the basics of how the brain develops based on repeated experiences, and what the science reveals that children need most at each stage of development, they are thrilled to have that understanding,” said McNelis.

“Suddenly it makes sense as to why a two-year-old does not have the capabilities that a four-year-old might have. Adults become more confident in their nurturing abilities, which helps children become calmer, as, from birth, the primary caregivers of babies are providing needed experiences. Positive experiences make for the healthy brain connections that lead to a foundation of trust, health, the ability to communicate, to learn, to get along with others, and so much more,” said McNelis.

McNelis is quick to point out her understanding of the special needs of foster parents and the children who come into their care, and how vitally important it is to build connections and trust.

Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.26.31 PM“There is a lot of emphasis put on the first two months of life. It is wonderful to be able to have that special time to bond and for the baby to establish a secure attachment. But we know older children benefit greatly from the Brain Insights “Neuro-Nurturing” supports, and our sharing of ways to nurture, interact, play and learn. When children and caregivers make connections with consistency while playing, exploring, spending time in nature, and simply enjoying time together, early relational health improves, which leads to better health outcomes physically, emotionally, and psychologically,” said McNelis.

Apparently, McNelis is connecting well with the parents who’ve taken the first round of webinars.

Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.48.56 PM“Evaluations of the first webinars have been incredibly positive, with 100 percent of respondents saying they are likely or very likely to attend subsequent webinars, and 100 percent of respondents saying they were likely to recommend, or would recommend, the webinars to others,” said Kate Schultz, deputy director of the Foster Family Alliance.

Additionally, 100 percent of participants said that as a result of the webinar, they felt a greater level of confidence in supporting children's healthy brain development.

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Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.46.45 PM “We are thrilled that Healthy Blue could support these PACEs Connection communities and this innovative programming that helps caregivers connect in new ways with the children placed in their care. It spoke volumes to us that Gaile Osborne, a foster parent herself, was so enthusiastic about the materials. We are looking forward to the next phase of the program,” said Kristy Kent, director of county engagement for Blue Cross NC.

“While this content goes deeper into brain development, it is also designed to help foster parents and caregivers learn how to PLAY and positively interact with the children. We understand the importance of positive childhood experiences (PCEs) in helping children build ‘buffers’ against the losses and adversity they have experienced. With these materials in-hand, parents have examples of positive experiences they can share with children,” said Kent.

The program, which started in November, will continue with monthly webinars through June 2024. Other aspects of the program will be announced in the months to come, according to Sipp.

For more information, contact Carey Sipp at, or Kate Schultz at


Images (11)
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.54.42 PM: Gaile Osborne, Foster Family Alliance of North Carolina
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.30.30 PM: The "Neuro-Nuturing®" model from creator Deborah McNelis, brain development specialist and author
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.27.07 PM: "Neuro-Nurturing®" is shared in easy-to-access ringed books filled with interactive play ideas to maximize connection and healthy brain development.
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.37.43 PM: Carey Sipp, PACES Connection
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 8.12.55 PM: CRM Training poster, featuring "the Resiliency Zone" and wellness skills and tools taught in the training
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 8.21.52 PM: Partial listing of CRM trainings
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 9.47.38 PM: Deborah McNelis, creator of "Neuro-Nurturing®" model of infant and child brain development for parents, caregivers, people who love babies and children
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.26.31 PM: McNelis is the author of "The First 60 Days' booklet which "busts" 22 potentially harmful myths about infants and parenting. The booklet is among materials to be received by participating foster families.
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.45.35 PM: 100 percent of attendees felt more confident
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.46.45 PM: Kristy Kent, Healthy Blue
  • Screen Shot 2023-11-30 at 7.48.56 PM: Kate Schultz, Foster Family Association of North Carolina

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