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Guest Post: A Renewed Focus on Children’s Healthy Development

By Liane Wong, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation,
Guest of Young Invincibles

For those of us who closely followed all six seasons of Parenthood, it was a bittersweet farewell to the Braverman family this January. Our household still wishes we could sit with this wonderfully knit clan on Thursday nights, and it’s been almost three months since the series ended.

For me, it was one of the few shows that let me bring up some sensitive subjects with my ‘tween son. As the show progressed, my son began to empathize with Max Braverman, one of the lead characters. Early on I thought he’d gravitate towards another character on the show who was more gregarious and athletic, but instead my son was drawn to Max’s experience making his way through elementary and then middle school with Asperger Syndrome – a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum affecting a person’s ability to effectively socialize and communicate. The young actor playing Max pulled my son right in – largely due to his acting ability, an obsession with reptiles, and incredibly authentic writing.

Experiencing the show together gave me a chance as a parent to talk with my son about the vital role that parents, health professionals, therapists, school counselors and mentors play in young people’s lives – for all kids but especially those with developmental differences. The trajectory we saw from Season One to Six was remarkable – from Max being largely non-communicative with anyone outside his family, transitioning in and out of multiple schools and being bullied mercilessly by his peers, to in the final episode smiling proudly to an entire room of parents while receiving his diploma and later confidently asking an older girl to dance with him at his aunt’s wedding. Max’s parents were tireless advocates and well-resourced, even going as far as starting a school for kids like Max. What about the kids with parents not nearly as well-resourced, or with not as much time to help Max my son asked? What happens for them?

Image from David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Image from David and Lucile Packard Foundation

With 40% of U.S. Millennial families with children now single parent households, providers across the health, behavioral health and education systems as well as adult mentors are needed more than ever to help our kids reach their full potential. If adults and systems pay attention early on to key developmental milestones and appropriate early intervention we can put kids from low to high risk on their way to be healthy lifelong learners and well-adjusted social beings.

Recognizing that the foundations for long‐term success in school and in life are laid in the early years, this week The David and Lucile Packard Foundation announced a new initiative to ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential by focusing on supporting children’s healthy development. This exploration will support organizations in California, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to collaborate on comprehensive approaches with providers and parents to ensure that all children receive the developmental screening, support, and intervention they need to grow and thrive. We are very excited to build on prior work in states on healthy development and helping them take up new opportunities for collaboration in the coming years.