A grant from the Headwaters Foundation is seeking to help six Montana counties by finding ways to improve the outcomes for children in their earliest years.
The Zero to Five initiative is an infusion of seed money from the foundation into creating local collaborative groups in a community-led effort to “improve the lives of children and their families,” according to the zerotofive.org website.
Lincoln County Public Health Manager Jennifer McCully said that Lincoln County is currently in the earliest part of the planning phase with the grant.
In total, the grant from the foundation provides $200,000 for planning and implementing, she said. Up to $50,000 is available for planning, though Lincoln County is asking for only $23,000 for the planning phase.
Anything left after the planning phase can be used for the implementation.
But what that implementation phase will look like is difficult to even begin to imagine at this point, McCully said. That will depend largely on what the collaborative group decides it needs to be.
Once they have determined that, the remaining funding will most likely be used to pay a full time coordinator.
The benefit of having a coordinator is that they can both ensure there is continuity for the collaborative group and help to keep the group collaborating, McCully said. Too often when such an effort is completely volunteer coordinated, things fall apart over time.
Data, effort and initiative is lost.
In addition, the coordinator would work directly with a secondary benefit of the Zero to Five initiative: a Headwaters office in Missoula that will offer support through things such as data collection, McCully said.
“They’ll be doing kind of the hard leg work that takes some expertise, and that will be funneled through the coordinator,” McCully said.
The central office and local coordinator can also help to maintain communication between the different Zero to Five collaborative groups in different counties, McCully said.
“Because if somebody’s doing something great, why reinvent the wheel?” she said.
But beyond some of the resources the grant program will assist with, what the actual implementation looks like is dependent on the needs the local group decides on, she said.
McCully listed three of the areas that the group could focus on: School readiness, positive or resilient parenting, and healthy pregnancy.
Any of those areas would address the development of children in the 0 to 5 years old range, but in different ways.
At this very early stage, McCully said that school staff and administrators from Troy and Libby are already onboard. But group members are also recruiting regular community members who may have good input to give.
McCully said that the idea is to have a very broad set of people with diverse perspectives. From law enforcement and child protective services to parents and educators. They even want to try to find people from different income brackets.
“Just to really analyze the system and see where the needs are,” McCully said.
The first meeting of those who are involved so far will take place Thursday, Jan. 17, she said.
“We hope to have a big group of people describe what’s going on, what the process is, and get commitment from them for the next six months to sit down really and hash it out,” she said.
They would want those involved to stick with the group past the initial six-month target for planning -- the planning phase could be longer or shorter than six months depending on what the groups decides.
“I don’t know who will want to continue,” McCully said. “It will probably depend on where that project goes and what it looks like.”