Georgia Family Connection Collaboratives Working to Improve Three Key Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Well-Being

Print This Post


A legacy of addressing complex issues and achieving lasting impact drives the Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) commitment to communities across the state. Communities need healthy, productive citizens so they—and our state—can prosper.

“Low-birthweight births, childhood obesity, and not reading on grade level by third grade are serious threats to the well-being of Georgia’s families and children,” said GaFCP Executive Director Gaye Smith. “Recognizing the impact these issues have on our state, we launched three initiatives dedicated to developing and implementing strategies that address these key indicators of child and family well-being.”

With help from state, community, and investment partners, GaFCP is supporting 17 Collaborative organizations with resources, assistance, and a structure so they can team up with their peers in other counties struggling to improve the same indicator. Each Collaborative is in one of three cohorts and works independently and as a team to strategize, identify resources, and develop programs, services, and activities to change the tide of low birthweight, childhood obesity or grade-level reading in their counties.

“Low birthweight, early learning—grade-level reading and childhood obesity prevention, and early childhood health and education are indicators that determine well-being later in life,” said Rebekah Hudgins, community cohorts project manager and evaluator at GaFCP. “Our goal is to bring attention to their significance and where they intersect to improve child and family well-being across the state.”

Working together, the Collaboratives in each cohort share their research, successes, and struggles in their own counties, to create programs to improve the indicator they’ve targeted.

Low Birthweight

“Georgia’s low-birthweight rate—babies born at less than 5.5 pounds—is among the worst in the nation,” said Hudgins. “Close to 70 percent of children in Georgia who die before their first birthday are born low weight. We have much work to do, like improving women’s health care, increasing community awareness and education about the risks associated with low birthweight, and providing access to adequate prenatal care.”

Thanks to funding from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, along with participation from state and community partners, including RAND Corporation, GaFCP published a research compendium in 2009 titled, Improving Infant Health: Addressing Low Birthweight in Georgia, to guide the Collaboratives in addressing this complex issue. An update of the compendium, published in 2017, includes the latest Georgia data, research, and best and promising practices.

Kaiser Permanente has continued to invest in the initial four counties—LamarHeardSpalding, and Butts—since 2010, when the initiative was launched. Meriwether County joined the Low-Birthweight Prevention cohort in 2016. These five counties work within their own communities and collaborate to improve women’s health and birth outcomes in the region.

“The cohort and the updated research compendium is a testament to the ongoing support of the efforts among committed partners,” said Hudgins. “Together we’re helping to change the culture of women’s health in the state.”

Early Learning—Grade-Level Reading and Childhood Obesity Prevention

Because of the strides being made through the Low Birthweight Prevention Cohort work, GaFCP announced in 2013 the creation of initiatives to address childhood obesity and grade-level reading.

A KIDS COUNT study reveals that reading proficiently by the end of third grade can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development. Students with low literacy achievement tend to have more behavioral and social problems in subsequent grades and higher rates of retention. And with more than 65 percent of Georgia’s students moving on to the fourth grade without proficient reading skills, improving literacy in counties where reading rate trends are worse than the state average is crucial.

Research has shown that child health is inextricably linked to school success. Childhood obesity is a key health issue for our children and a financial burden to the state, because Georgia spends $2.4 billion on treating obesity-related illnesses. Childhood obesity also is a national issue. For the first time in our nation’s history, children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents due to the consequences of obesity.

With funding from Annie E. Casey and Blank Family Foundation, six counties—Polk, Seminole, Charlton, Baldwin, Washington, and Newton—were invited to join either the Early Learning—Grade-Level Reading or the Childhood Obesity Prevention Cohort. Each launched county-specific strategies designed to focus on either grade-level reading or childhood obesity.

“It became obvious that many supports across the two cohorts were similar and all had a child health and education focus,” said Hudgens. “As a result, the two cohorts merged to form the Early Childhood Health and Education Cohort (EC-HEED).”

Early Childhood Health and Education

Six counties were invited to join the original six cohort counties in 2016 to form the EC-HEED Cohort with a focus on decreasing childhood obesity, improving child health, and increasing the percentage of children reading proficiently by third grade. The Blank Family Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation continued to invest in this newly formed cohort. The new counties invited from across the state to join the cohort were Fulton, Hancock, Crisp, Elbert, Emanuel, and Terrell.

These 12 counties have developed strategies that include attention to healthy eating and nutrition, exercise, reading, story-telling, and positive adult-child interactions. Their strategies are aligned with the Get Georgia Reading Campaign’s common agenda to create the conditions for every child in Georgia to become a proficient reader by the end of third grade and the Institute of Medicine’s five essential areas that need to be improved to reduce obesity.

“Third graders who are not reading on grade level are far more likely not to graduate from high school on time,” said Hudgins. “And research shows that many low-birthweight children are born pre-term, and children born pre-term have lower school performance, illustrating how the indicators intersect. With support of our state and local partners, the EC-HEED Cohort strives to get children back in shape, at healthy weights, and reading proficiently by the end of third grade.”

Smith agrees. “By keeping our commitment and focus on improving these three key indicators of child and family well-being, we can impact the well-being of children and families, and improve the health and productivity of all Georgians to help communities to thrive across our state,” she said.

To learn more about these initiatives or the cohorts, send an email to Rebekah Hudgins.