Measuring Impact:
The Family Partnership Teams Up with Reflection Sciences to Shape its Executive Functioning Program

The Family Partnership (TFP)—a Minnesota-based non-profit organization—works to break intergenerational cycles of poverty, adversity, and trauma through various programs. Led by Dianne Haulcy, president and CEO of TFP, the 143-year-old organization addresses the evolving needs of Minneapolis families, many of whom are the most vulnerable in our community. Specifically, its focus areas include:

  • Mental health therapies – including family counseling, school-linked mental health services, play therapy, and in-home counseling, meet the unique needs of children, teens, and adults recovering from trauma or mental illness.
  • Anti-sex trafficking programs – holistic support services for sexually exploited individuals and families to help them with personal recovery, self-sufficiency, and stress management.
  • Family Home Visiting services – delivered through in-home parenting services and in cooperation with its therapeutic preschools- help caregivers overcome challenges and nurture healthy child development.
  • Early childhood education and developmental therapies – Delivered at TFP’s two multicultural therapeutic preschools, these services aim to boost academic proficiency and develop children’s social-emotional and cognitive skills. 

In Minnesota, Black and Native American adults experience three times the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) scores as their white peers. Without the support of adult caregivers, ACEs can cause toxic stress in children, hindering the development of their executive function and self-regulation skills. This stress increases the likelihood that children will experience mental and physical health problems later on. However, kids born into poverty can achieve positive outcomes if they possess average or above-average executive function skills, leveling the playing field for all children, according to John Everett Till, senior vice president of strategy and innovation at TFP. 

“A child with strong executive function skills can stay on a task they’ve started, and if they become upset about something, they can say what’s bothering them and use words for thoughts and feelings and bounce back quickly,” Till said.

Till, who leads TFP’s brain science and two-generation approach to family intervention at TFP, worked with Dr. Christine Wing, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, and teachers of color nationwide to develop TFP’s Executive Functioning Across Generations® curriculum. Wing, a certified speech-language pathologist, had worked extensively with children at risk for or demonstrating significant behavior problems alongside educators, mental health professionals, and therapists in educational and healthcare settings.

TFP piloted its Executive Functioning Across Generations curriculum, which includes child- and parent-focused components, in 2017 at its two multicultural preschools, with funding from The Medica Foundation and others. These preschools serve Black and Native American families, of which more than 95 percent fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Wing and Till used RSI’s Minnesota Executive Function Scale (MEFS) to shape the curriculum and measure participant growth throughout the program. Educators can assess children as young as two years old with the MEFS, and the tool can be used to measure executive functioning skills throughout the school year and from year to year.

Since its inception in 2017, Executive Functioning Across Generations has been used in its multicultural preschools and is being piloted by organizations nationwide.

“The Family Partnership believes in using a two-generation approach, engaging children and caregivers together, to disrupt the transmission of generational trauma and promote healing,” according to Haulcy. “Strong children-parent/caregiver relationships are key to buffering against the impact of early adversity and toxic stress on executive functioning skills and overall well-being.”

  • The child-focused portion of Executive Functioning Across Generations employs the building blocks of executive function. This includes daily lessons that teach children the vocabulary to express thoughts and emotions, foster perspective-taking, encourage interactive exchanges between caregivers and children, and encourage personal storytelling.
  • In the caregiver component, parents and guardians learn strategies to support their children’s language skills and engage in activities that promote executive function. By collectively strengthening their executive function and self-regulation skills, families can establish a solid foundation for academic success, work, and personal relationships, helping them build better futures and stronger communities.

Impressive Impact of TFP’s Executive Functioning Program

Using MEFS as a measurement tool, TFP continues to refine its curriculum, objectively demonstrate students’ executive function skill growth, and better prepare children for kindergarten. From 2017 to 2019, The Family Partnership conducted three pilot rounds of  Executive Functioning Across Generations, which showed statistically significant increases in students’ executive function skills, as measured by MEFS and other tools.

  • Children participating in the second and third pilots increased their MEFS scores.
  • In the third pilot, children who initially scored below the age-adjusted national median for executive function skills surpassed the national median after the intervention.
  • Teachers and parents reported increased children’s use of internal state words following the intervention.
  • Advanced linguistic software analysis enhanced the complexity of children’s personal narratives when comparing pre-and post-intervention samples. 

Executive Functioning Across Generations continues to attract national recognition. The Harvard Center on the Developing Child–Frontiers of Innovation selected TFP’s curriculum for national replication and, to date, has supported pilots in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Delaware with funding from the Hemera Foundation. Additional program pilots, including one recently completed in San Antonio, Texas, are underway.

At the same time, TFP continues to see the positive results of its Executive Functioning program closer to home.

“Year over year, more than 90 percent of children in our preschools’ graduate kindergarten-ready, compared to 60 percent of children in Minnesota and 52 percent of children in households with low incomes,” said Haulcy. “When children graduate (from preschool) kindergarten-ready, they are better positioned to achieve age-appropriate test scores going into high school. Then, they are more likely to graduate high school, clearing the path for future long-term success and stability.”

Children in TFP’s preschool programs achieve high levels of kindergarten readiness because their preschools use evidence-based curricula and follow a therapeutic preschool model. For example, TFP therapy staff screen children for developmental delays and behavioral health and then deliver therapy services (speech, occupational, physical, play, and mental health) on-site to children who need them. The Executive Functioning program adds another dimension to this therapeutic model.

It becomes increasingly more difficult for kids to “catch up” if they begin their school careers behind due to trauma or adversity, which is why it is crucial to provide therapies and interventions that provide young children with the boosts they need—including developmental and mental health therapies, alongside our executive functioning intervention to help them reach their full potential, according to Haulcy.

“When children and families strengthen their executive function and self-regulation skills, they lay a strong foundation for success in school, work, and personal relationships— including parenting for the next generation,” she said. “This builds toward better futures and more equitable communities.”

Executive Functioning as a Critical School Readiness Measure

Since 2014, Reflection Sciences has partnered with education organizations to drive executive function and social-emotional learning growth. By promoting and measuring executive function skills, we strive to minimize achievement and opportunity gaps for all students. 

Executive Function 101

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