Tri-County Organizations Launch Partnership to Improve Early Childhood Education and Care in Berkeley County

Charleston, S.C. – Six Charleston-area organizations, a mental health professional, a doula, and a
data expert have come together to form a coalition designed to improve the wellbeing and
potential of children affected by adverse circumstances in Berkeley County, South Carolina.
Called the Berkeley County Early Education and Care Collective (BEE&CC), the coalition was one of
139 groups that applied to take part in the Networks of Opportunity for Child Wellbeing (NOW)
Learning Community program of Boston Medical Center’s Vital Village Network, an initiative
funded through a $2.2 million grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. BEE&CC was one of
ten groups selected across the United States to take part in the program.

Led by backbone organization Berkeley County First Steps, BEE&CC member organizat
Under the NOW program, BEE&CC will improve its members’ ability to provide all Lowcountry
families with resources to build a strong foundation and nurture healthy children by forming a
supportive community of practice and sharing knowledge and data among its member
organizations and NOW Learning Communities across the nation. Vital Village will provide the
group with a robust set of knowledge, skills, and tools to scale and sustain equitable
transformation of early childhood care, education, and health systems in their individual
communities.

“We’re grateful to NOW and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for this funding, which has
tremendous potential to change maternal and child health outcomes in South Carolina’s largest
county,” said Adrienne Troy-Frazier, executive director of BEE&CC’s lead organization, Berkeley
County First Steps. “Through this grant we hope to use the expertise, knowledge, and local
relationships nurtured by our member organizations and fellow Learning Communities to expand
on ways to reduce the effects of adverse experiences in childhood.”

The need for this program in South Carolina, even as early as the time a woman conceives, is
significant. According to America’s Health Rankings, black mothers are more than four times more
likely to die in childbirth than white mothers in South Carolina, and according to the March of
Dimes, in 2015 nearly 20% of infants were birthed by women in the state receiving inadequate
prenatal care. South Carolina’s black infant mortality rate is more than double that of white
infants, at 11.2% for black infants versus 4.8% for white infants in 2015, the most recent year for
which data is available.

Participating NOW Learning Communities, which include coalitions in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado,
Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington in addition to BEE&CC,
will kick off the 18-month initiative with a one-day action lab, attend semi-annual learning
symposiums, and participate in monthly check-ins and webinars in which the coalitions will learn
from each other. They will also have access to resources in the NOW Online Forum, focus groups
and surveys that multiple members can co-design, and technical assistance and training.

“It is clear that adverse social environments and experiences in early childhood are key drivers of
inequities in health and development and have a durable impact on wellbeing and life chances,”
said Renee Boynton-Jarett, MD, ScD, founder of Vital Village and a pediatrician at Boston Medical
Center. “Communities across the country are responding by identifying how systemic inequities,
institutional racism, and historical and community trauma harm health, but also cultivating
community-based solutions and developing sustainable neighborhood opportunity structures to
promote child wellbeing, which is transformative.”

Launched in 2016, NOW builds on Vital Village’s network approach to build the capacity of other
local communities and coalitions across the country working to promote child wellbeing, align
systems of care and education in early childhood, and improve neighborhood opportunity
structures that promote optimal wellbeing and reduce inequities in child health and education—
all through a trauma-informed lens.

ABOUT VITAL VILLAGE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT NETWORK
The Vital Village Network is committed to maximizing child, family, and community wellbeing.
Since 2010, Vital Village has fostered partnerships between residents and organizations aimed at
improving the capacity of three Boston communities to promote child wellbeing and prevent
early life adversities. The Network uses a trauma-informed lens to support systems alignment and
collaboration across community-based early childhood health and education efforts. Its focus
areas include promoting family strengths and social connections during the preconception and
prenatal period, peer-to-peer advocacy aimed at addressing social and material hardships, and
innovations in early childhood education. For more information about Vital Village, visit
www.vitalvillage.org.

ABOUT BERKELEY COUNTY FIRST STEPS
Berkeley County First Steps is part of a statewide initiative to prepare young children for school
and a lifetime of learning. Serving the hardest-to-reach children and families first, its vision is to
see that every child in Berkeley County enters kindergarten safe, healthy, ready to succeed, and
eager to learn. It seeks to fulfill this vision by providing families with improved childcare and early
education opportunities, striving for an early childhood system that is transparent and easily
navigated by families, ensuring that family engagement and partnership is embedded in this
system, expanding and improving healthcare, and strengthening families through a parenting
skills program. For more information about Berkeley County First Steps, visit
www.berkeleyfirststeps.com.