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An Interview With Ross Thompson, ZERO TO THREE Board President
In this new section of Crib Notes, we invite a ZERO TO THREE Board Member to share perspectives and reflections with members. In this issue, Board President Ross Thompson responds to our questions.
What is happening at ZERO TO THREE right now that you are most excited about?
Three things. First, ZERO TO THREE recently received $39 million from Blue Meridian Partners to begin a multiyear effort to expand HealthySteps nationally. HealthySteps is an evidence-based program to transform pediatric practice to incorporate developmental screenings and guidance to parents that will strengthen the health and well-being of young children, especially those in low-income families. We are excited about what HealthySteps can accomplish on a national level and the opportunities it provides ZERO TO THREE to work with the pediatric community.
Second, we will launch our second Strolling Thunder event next month in Washington, DC, in which ZERO TO THREE Board members and staff will accompany families from Congressional districts on visits to House and Senate offices to discuss with our representatives the importance of the early years. In addition, we’re bringing our “Think Babies” campaign to the states as well, and we’re excited about the opportunities to inform legislators at the state and local levels about the need to consider first the impact of programs and policies on our youngest citizens.
Third, our membership program is expanding rapidly and engaging the friends of ZERO TO THREE throughout the country. I’m enjoying reading what members write on our “Members Connect” listserv and the ways that people who are devoted to babies, toddlers, and their families are working with each other and with this wonderful organization.
As you engage in ZERO TO THREE’s strategic planning for the organization, what is one new opportunity, outcome, or strategy that you are eager to incorporate?
We have recently recruited Ernestine Benedict, our new Chief Communications Officer, to join our executive management team. For the first time, ZERO TO THREE has a senior leader with expertise in the public communication of our message, mission, and goals. This includes not only the more traditional communication through print, but also social media, website engagement of our audiences, marketing, and developing an accurate and attractive image (or “brand”) for ZERO TO THREE.
In our strategic planning effort, we’re excited about the opportunities this offers to extend our outreach to professionals and parents, engage in more effective policy advocacy both nationally and at state and local levels, and make practitioners aware of the remarkable resources we offer to support knowledge development and its implementation in early care and education. Even more, our strengthened communications will also enable us to integrate our messages across our different programs to ensure, for example, that new materials we prepare for parents might also find their way to members, professionals, and even the pediatricians who participate in HealthySteps.
I’m also hopeful that improved communications will help in another way. ZERO TO THREE is supported primarily through the grants, contracts, and earned revenue that enable our work. But many of the activities that are central to our mission—such as developing DC:0–5TM, our new early mental health guide, or our policy work—are not funded in this way, but instead by donations that come from friends of the organization. I hope that as we become more capable at communicating what we do—and why—many more people will seek to engage and support our work. This will enable us to better advance our mission of ensuring that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life.
As you observe the world around you, what is an issue affecting young children and their families that concerns you? How do you think ZERO TO THREE can help?
Children under 3 years old constitute the age group with the highest proportion living in poverty, and young children suffer other challenges owing to homelessness, maltreatment, and special needs. We know that early adversity affects how young children develop and their capacities for learning and connecting with other people, and these effects begin very early. The science is unmistakable, as is the need for greater attention to young children and support for those who care for them, such as through funding for Early Head Start, home visitation programs, and improving child care quality, and strengthened health care. ZERO TO THREE draws attention to these young children in difficulty, communicates the science concerning the impact of these conditions and their remediation, and urges policymakers in Washington, DC, and state capitals to “think babies” in their programs and policies. In fact, no other organization so effectively and responsibly integrates science, practice, and policy for the youngest citizens as does ZERO TO THREE. It is so especially important now that we not allow the needs of babies and toddlers in difficulty to be overlooked.
What is something that ZERO TO THREE members, staff, and even other Board Members might be surprised to know about you?
Some Board members and staff laugh at the fact that I speak in complete sentences, sometimes paragraphs (once during an Executive Committee meeting I had to convey a complicated personnel review in 10 minutes, so I spoke fast, clearly, and continuously for the entire time; there were no questions afterwards, but one Board member said, “Could you repeat that?”). I enjoy public speaking and have become fairly good at it. What few people know is that I was terrified of speaking in front of a group as a young adult, and I can remember several occasions when I was almost paralyzed with stage fright. I wanted to be a college teacher, however, so I realized I had to develop skills in public speaking that did not come naturally for me. This took some work (once my department chair found me rehearsing a lecture before an empty classroom, which he thought was kind of strange). As I look at it now, the experience has reminded me that sometimes we can develop skills and gifts that do not come naturally if they are important enough for us to do so. We are each individuals of wonderful capabilities but also of great potential.