Family Spirit To Expand Home-Visiting Program Designed by and for Indigenous Families

Posted January 18, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young Indigenous family of four — a father, mother, daughter and son — crouch down on a residential street for a family photo.

A ground­break­ing home-vis­it­ing pro­gram fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion that incor­po­rates cul­tur­al­ly informed prac­tices for Indige­nous fam­i­lies will soon expand in the Unit­ed States and be imple­ment­ed over­seas, thanks to a new $27.8 mil­lion grant from the LEGO Foun­da­tion.

The Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for Indige­nous Health recent­ly won one of five awards from the LEGO Foundation’s Build a World of Play Chal­lenge, which aims to sup­port orga­ni­za­tions mak­ing sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions to the lives of chil­dren from birth to 6 years old.

Reach­ing Indige­nous Fam­i­lies in Three Addi­tion­al Countries

More than 240,000 fam­i­lies in trib­al com­mu­ni­ties in Cana­da, New Zealand and Aus­tralia will be able to take advan­tage of the expand­ed Fam­i­ly Spir­it pro­gram, which was designed to sup­port healthy devel­op­ment for Amer­i­can Indi­an moth­ers and young chil­dren. The Casey Foun­da­tion pro­vid­ed ear­ly sup­port for Fam­i­ly Spir­it, which was cre­at­ed by and for Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in an inno­v­a­tive part­ner­ship between the cen­ter and the Nava­jo, White Moun­tain Apache and San Car­los Apache tribes in 1995.

The pro­gram fea­tures home vis­its by local health coach­es, an edu­ca­tion­al cur­ricu­lum and tools and resources for par­ents — all deliv­ered in an approach that inte­grates cul­tur­al tra­di­tions and prac­tices geared to the strengths of par­tic­i­pants. The Foun­da­tion sup­port­ed a web-based plat­form that helped Fam­i­ly Spir­it more quick­ly and pre­cise­ly iden­ti­fy what young moth­ers need­ed and expand the reach of the curriculum.

The cur­ricu­lum cov­ers a range of top­ics from nutri­tion to lan­guage devel­op­ment and includes lessons for home vis­i­tors to incor­po­rate local Indige­nous child-rear­ing teach­ings, such as infor­ma­tion about cer­e­monies held dur­ing preg­nan­cy and in a child’s ear­ly years.

Fam­i­ly Spir­it shows the tremen­dous pos­i­tive effect that is pos­si­ble when we work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with com­mu­ni­ties to address their needs, build trust­ing rela­tion­ships and rec­og­nize and inte­grate their cul­tur­al back­grounds and exper­tise,” says Cyn­thia Weaver, senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foun­da­tion. We are very excit­ed to see how this pro­gram will con­tin­ue to make a dif­fer­ence in improv­ing children’s and fam­i­lies’ lives across the world, and how it evolves as an exam­ple of an effec­tive inno­va­tion brought to large scale.”

Respond­ing to a His­to­ry of Inequity to Improve Well-Being

Rig­or­ous, peer-reviewed stud­ies on the Fam­i­ly Spir­it pro­gram show that it has made a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in mater­nal and child health, includ­ing improve­ments on mater­nal sub­stance use and depres­sion and children’s social, emo­tion­al and behav­ioral devel­op­ment. The LEGO Foun­da­tion-fund­ed ini­tia­tive also will be eval­u­at­ed for its effects on children’s well-being, fam­i­ly sta­bil­i­ty and cul­tur­al and com­mu­ni­ty connectedness.

The center’s com­mit­ment to eval­u­a­tion and build­ing an evi­dence base helps ensure that effec­tive strate­gies are pri­or­i­tized and scaled to improve mater­nal and child health,” Weaver says. We look for­ward to see­ing and learn­ing from the results of the expand­ed program.” 

Since its start, Fam­i­ly Spir­it has been used in 155 com­mu­ni­ties in 24 U.S. states. With the LEGO Foun­da­tion grant, the cen­ter will expand the pro­gram in part­ner­ship with three orga­ni­za­tions inter­na­tion­al­ly: the First Nations Health Author­i­ty in Cana­da; Te Rōpū Ran­ga­hau Hauo­ra a Eru Pōmare/​The Eru Pōmare Māori Health at Uni­ver­si­ty of Ota­go in New Zealand; and Batch­e­lor Insti­tute for Indige­nous Ter­tiary Edu­ca­tion in Australia.

The pro­gram also will devel­op inter­gen­er­a­tional out­door play spaces that incor­po­rate nature-based recre­ation, land-based learn­ing and cul­tur­al teach­ings. The cen­ter was select­ed out of a pool of 627 appli­cants from 86 countries.

Read more about Fam­i­ly Spirit’s work

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