A few years ago, I was invited to attend and participate in the Aspen Ideas Festival. The festival, which is being held online this year, brings together thought leaders from around the globe to engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the issues that shape our lives and challenge us. Among the topics that were covered was an idea that we at Social Impact Architects have noticed building momentum in the social sector – the “whole child.”

The whole-child mindset is based on the ideal that every child should be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. Although it is not a new concept – in fact, its roots reach back to the 19th century – we have begun to see more and more government agencies and nonprofit organizations use it to develop programs across many different issue areas. This kind of cross-pollination is a tell-tale sign that this trend is here to stay.

We hope you’ll delve deeper into this important trend after reading our brief overview of how whole-child mindset is successfully being used to better meet the needs of children in the areas of health, education and workforce development.

Health: In spring 2013, ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), one of the leading thinkers on whole child, and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) upgraded the coordinated school health program with a whole-child mindset. (The results of their work can be found in the Journal of School Health.) The model takes a system change approach with the child at the center, stressing the importance of “coordination among policy, process and practice.” It also places a greater emphasis on engaging families and students as active participants. The whole-child model – which brought together the best thinkers in health and education – provides us with an evolved process that focuses on both academic and health outcomes, encourages community as well as school engagement, and gives greater attention to social and emotional development. We encourage all organizations in health and education to integrate this model into existing plans.

Education: The Every Student Succeeds Act has also brought new thinking into this conversation, giving states flexibility on measuring school performance. Many school districts, especially ones struggling with poverty, have used the whole-child mindset as the philosophical underpinning of their culture. Each year, ASCD gives out awards to schools who exemplify the whole-child concept. A recent winner was Magnolia Elementary in Joppa, Md., which has built five “houses” within the school, each one aligning with a desired trait – responsibility, respect, cooperation, encouragement and perseverance.

Workforce: The passage of WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) reinforced research indicating that quality childcare is one of the greatest drivers of economic mobility. Additionally, research led by Dr. Ron Haskins continues to support the importance of connecting parents and children as a unit – also known as the two-generation model. He has identified six pathways that impact child development – stress, parent education, health, employment, income and asset development – leading many to believe that poverty approaches are most effective when they are multi-generational and comprehensive.

The whole-child mindset is more than a fad. It is built on decades of solid research and is amplified by a new model that connects community-school-family response to student-driven need. It also recognizes that we have to break through our silos to ensure that children get their needs met in a comprehensive and connected manner. We would love to hear your thoughts on how this trend is being used in health, workforce and education and how you see it driving your plans and priorities in the future.

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