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The Early Childhood Innovation Network (ECIN) is dedicated to helping the smallest members of our community grow up to accomplish big things.
Formed as a partnership in 2016 between MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Children’s National Health System, ECIN develops strategies to support children and caregivers in Washington, D.C., and advocates for positive changes to public policy. ECIN has grown into a network that includes community organizations, educators, government and social services agencies, and local healthcare providers. Matthew Biel, MD, MSc, chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, serves as co-director with Lee Beers, MD, a pediatrician and Medical Director of Municipal and Regional Affairs at Children’s National Health System.
ECIN was created to promote new strategies to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in marginalized communities in the nation’s capital. ACEs are highly stressful events that commonly impact children and families, including untreated maternal depression, abuse or violence at home, hunger, and unsafe housing. When pregnant women or young children are exposed to ACEs, these experiences can trigger changes in children’s development, a reaction known as toxic stress.
Toxic stress is associated with longterm changes to a child’s brain functioning, behavior, and educational achievement—as well as increased risks for chronic health conditions later in life, including obesity, cancer, and mental illness. More than half of children in Washington D.C., experience at least one ACE. However, positive adult support and strong relationships between children and caregivers can mitigate the negative effects of ACEs.
“During the first five years of life, the brain is developing more rapidly than at any other time,” says Dr. Biel. “Early life experiences—both positive and negative—have a lasting effect on physical and mental health. In order to support children’s well-being at this critical age, we need to develop effective strategies to best support the adults who care for them.”
Collaborating closely with community leaders and families, ECIN supports safe and nurturing environments in order to buffer against the effects of ACEs and enhance resilience. This work includes mental health and developmental supports for children and parents in pediatric clinics; training and support for early childhood educators; training parents and teachers in mindfulness skills to improve adult well-being and enhance caregiver-child relationships; and mental health screening and treatment for pregnant women. ECIN includes a strong clinical research team and a legislative advocacy group to promote citywide policies in health and education that will promote child and family well-being.
A $6 million, five-year commitment to MedStar Georgetown and Children’s National Health System from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation in 2016 set the stage for philanthropic support of ECIN. Since the Marriott family’s groundbreaking gift, the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation, the Bainum Family Foundation, and D.C. Health have all joined the community of ECIN funders.
“The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation's investment has sparked a wave of giving,” says Pam Maroulis, the Hospital’s vice president of Philanthropy. “With ongoing philanthropic support from foundations and individuals, ECIN will sustainably expand its reach and services to children and their families for years to come.”