Charting a Path Forward for Health and Well-Being in North Carolina
By Elizabeth Star Winer
That powerful moment of connection between mom and baby is incredible – the eye contact, the serve-and-return smiles and laughter. Relationships are core to who we are as human beings – they are the building blocks of positive growth and development for children and their caregivers.
As a consultant within the healthcare system for ten years, I saw how impactful complex interpersonal interactions between caregivers and newborns are to the children’s healthy development, and how important it is for parents to have the tools and opportunities to be the best caregivers they can be. I later founded the Winer Family Foundation to tackle the systemic barriers I witnessed first-hand to child and maternal health and well-being in health care institutions and beyond.
Now a decade into operations, we have built many authentic relationships with advocates, community and systems leaders across the state, tested new approaches, and learned invaluable lessons. Our small-yet-mighty team has grown. We have been called to chart out the next ten years, both by this moment in our own journey, and by today’s harmful realities – a crushing global pandemic, systemic and institutional racism, disparities in health care service for Black mothers, to name a few.
The one question we keep coming back to is: Where can we, as a small family foundation, have the most impact?
We know that our collective society, systems, and institutions are failing our state’s children and families in important ways: North Carolina has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, ranking 41st out of 51, with Black women experiencing a disproportionately higher rate than women of all other racial and ethnic groups. More than half (57.5%) of North Carolinians have experienced at least one childhood trauma, such as adult incarceration, mental illness, or substance abuse in the household. Nearly half (43%) of our state’s children live in poor or low-income homes, with disproportionately high rates experienced by Black, Hispanic, and Native American children.
Our team has spent the past six months taking stock of our work to-date, our relationships, the current issues and systemic barriers, our individual and collective values and strengths, best practices in strengths-based language and equitable grantmaking, while simultaneously balancing current investments and leaving space for flexibility.
As a result of this deep-dive work, we are proud to share the three long-term priorities that will chart our foundation’s path for the next ten years. These priorities both honor where we’ve been and where we want to go:
Priority 1: Taking a whole child approach to build healthy families from the start: Increasing access to quality maternal health and child development opportunities that build early relational health to meet the social emotional, mental, and physical needs of children and their families.
Priority 2: Advancing an interconnected, efficient, and trauma-informed culture within and between government, judicial, health, nonprofit, and academic systems: Creating whole systems that embed policies and practices that prevent and address adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to better support children and families.
Priority 3: Building intergenerational cycles of prosperity and opportunity: Working with government, private, nonprofit, and political systems, primarily in the Charlotte area, to advocate and scale innovations that build economic mobility for all.
We are doubling down on our commitment to strategically breaking down systemic silos and going as upstream as possible for sustainable, long-term change. We are increasingly taking a two-generation, or whole family approach, to health and well-being. We acknowledge the trauma and re-traumatizing effects that interacting with the criminal justice system can have on children and families. And we are opening space to test innovative economic solutions for families in our community in Charlotte – because health and economic security are inextricably linked.
This is just the beginning of a new chapter at the Winer Family Foundation. A brief annual report describing our recent grants, and how they map to long-term priorities, can be found here. We hope you will subscribe to our brand-new e-newsletter and follow us on Twitter to stay informed and connected.