Healthi Kids’ focus on children’s health is growing broader. That growth is due to its partnership with the Greater Rochester Health Foundation.​​​​​​​

Healthi Kids is an initiative of Common Ground Health with funding from the Health Foundation. It has focused on children reaching a healthy weight for the past decade. The program has advocated for more physical activity in schools and better food in schools and neighborhoods. It has also called for safer, more accessible play areas and streets.

Now Healthi Kids also will focus on policy and advocacy around the social, emotional and mental health of kids through age 8. 

This effort is part of the Health Foundation’s new Healthy Futures Strategy. The expansion aims to increase and improve health and wellbeing for kids and families. This will include promoting healthy environments for development. 

Healthi Kids will build on its links with schools, communities and families in Monroe County. Eventually it will expand to the region. The program’s goal is to change policies, systems and barriers to health that families face.

The Health Foundation chose this approach to child health to look at kids as whole people, explained Dina Faticone, Common Ground Health’s director of community health and engagement. “We will build on what we have learned through our healthy weight work to impact that crucial early childhood foundation.”

“Research has shown that in the first few years of life, more than 1 million neuro-connections form every second,” she said. “Those first few years are the building blocks for development.”

Studies have found stress from bad experiences in childhood can disrupt brain development. This often happens in parts of the brain that help us plan, focus attention, remember instructions and juggle tasks. This damage can harm learning, behavior and physical and mental health, she said. 

Protective factors – such as a good relationship with a caring adult – may turn around a bad experience, Faticone notes.

Other strategies may include building healthy relationships and habits and teaching skills and competencies. Others may involve creating secure environments and psychological safety.

The foundation’s Healthy Futures Strategy also engages the Children’s Institute in building a new training and coaching center. The initiative includes a social and emotional health task force and partnerships with the pediatric community. Work with child-serving agencies, child care centers, schools and families is planned. Partners will share lessons learned through each of the elements, Faticone said.

“By focusing on the whole child, we hope to see long-term gains in our kids and our communities,” Faticone said.