Why ERH Is Vital for Health and Well-Being

By David W. Willis, MD
Senior Fellow, Center for the Study of Social Policy

Nurture Connection

Welcome to Nurture Connection where you can see and learn about the exciting and transformative progress across our nation aimed at advancing early relational health in partnership with families and communities. The scientific knowledge and wisdom about the importance of early emotional connections for the future wellbeing of children, families, and communities is growing.  Families, professionals, and policymakers are driving a paradigm shift to focus on nurturing connections that promote early relational health.  This work is based on knowledge from the fields of neuroscience, medicine, psychology, sociology, and education, as well as cultural wisdom and generational knowledge that has forever assured human survival and thriving.  We see a hopeful path toward a more resilient society of thriving people and more connected communities.

At the same time, we also have deeper understanding how racist, societal, and economic forces have compromised family and community opportunity and resilience for generations. Such negative forces continue to drive disparities in health, education, and well-being for a growing segment of our society. We know the bitter toxicity of these forces. We also know of the positive impacts of nurturing families and resilient communities. Implementing change with a focus on racial justice, equity, and dignity for every person are core values in our early relational health movement.  Nurture Connection is for all of us, aiming to harness the power of early relationships and to disrupt the longstanding policies and societal forces that inhibit early relational health and human flourishing.

I have been inspired by my mother’s deeply held values as a nurse who taught me to listen deeply to the experiences of those we care for. In my early days as a pediatric resident, then a naive Fellow in Child Development, I yearned to act, as a clinician, to ensure that every child develops a strong brain, body, and spirit.  My mid-career transition to maternal child health policy at Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) reinforced my commitment to the well-being of all our nation’s children and families. I see ways to change services and policies. Yet I remained deeply humbled by the overwhelming numbers of children and families who weren’t thriving.  This is especially troubling because we know what to do, but just have not been doing it. That reality has driven me to sound the alarm and keep up a drumbeat for early relational health.

Now we are witnessing remarkable innovations and progress: a much deeper understanding of how early relationships affect healthy child development; a nation coming to understand the source of its inequalities and policies needed to move forward;  a next generation of parents demanding more support and connections; and growing global awareness that interconnectedness, belonging within connected communities and commitments to universal human dignity are the paths forward.  Nurture Connection elevates these changes, while keeping its focus on early relational health and the essential partnership  with families. As more innovators and adopters join with us in Nurture Connection, we aim higher—to ensure that every baby born today thrives from the experiences of strong, positive, and nurturing relationships and support in their community and our nation. Join us on this amazing journey.