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Frontiers of Innovation (FOI) - A History

The National Frontiers of Innovation (FOI) initiative was launched by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University in 2011, aiming to drive science-based innovation that leads to dramatically larger impacts on the lives of young children whose needs (or the needs of the adults who care for them) are not being met by existing policies and programs. In Washington State, FOI evolved into the Washington Interagency Fatherhood Council. We still continue to support brain science research and have transitioned our attention to the under-represented population of fathers in the state. The goals of the Fatherhood Council are found on the Council page. 

Washington Frontiers of Innovation (WA FOI) is:

A cross-agency collaboration between the Center and five Washington State agencies: Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS); Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF); Health Care Authority (HCA); Department of Health (DOH); and The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).   The partnership between Washington State and The Center was established in 2011 to promote this agenda by implementing program, practice, policy, and system innovative changes and systematically studying them to learn what works to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families. Our aim is to re-envision early childhood investment to stimulate creativity and support experimentation in order to produce significant, population-level change.

We value:

  • Designing and testing new ideas at the program, system, and policy level based on specific hypotheses generated by scientific insights and theories to produce greater impacts than current best practice, adding to the existing body of knowledge,

  • Cultivating a culture of innovation at all levels to collectively achieve what we cannot achieve alone, and

  • Developing transformational leaders from diverse perspectives so that leadership happens at all levels and across sectors.

We are committed to:

The use of emerging caregiver and child brain science and testing and implementing new approaches and ideas to create breakthrough outcomes for the Washington’s most vulnerable children and families. 

We are grounded by:

A growing understanding of the negative cumulative effects of Adverse Early Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the impacts that toxic stress has on the development of brain architecture, and how this can impair the maturation of organs and metabolic regulatory functions, leading to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. This coupled with the evidence around the buffering effects of community, family, and child resilience has led the network of FOI contributors to propose two fundamental shifts in early childhood policy:

  • Investments in the earliest childhood years are critical for lifelong health promotion and disease prevention, not just to enhance school readiness.

  • Children require a two-pronged support system, one that both protects from the biological consequences of significant adversity, and also stimulates social emotional wellbeing and enriched learning opportunities.

These shifts, combined with new scientific insights about the development of executive function, self-regulation, mental health, and resilience have led to FOI focusing its current theory of change on actively building these core skills in children and the adults who care for them within the context of their community. For parents, these skills also enhance employability and increase economic and social stability for the family, thereby further reducing sources of stress.  WA FOI provides a learning laboratory for innovation that incubates system and policy changes grounded in the science.

We are supported by:

The strong entrepreneurial spirit and committed leadership across sectors in Washington State that result in high levels of activity around finding solutions to the negative cumulative impacts of early adverse childhood experiences and overwhelming stress for caregiver and child.  This is enhanced by a commitment to strengthening the prevention system while scaffolding families and building resilience at all levels. 

Success is determined by:

How effectively the Program level and Policy and System level portfolios of activity lead to transformative changes that are 1) improving our state’s priority outcomes for caregivers and children, 2) scalable and sustainable, and 3) thoughtfully studied so as to be replicable across sectors. 

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