Family & Social Relationships

An Excerpt From BBF’s “How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families” 2017 Report 

Young children learn about the world through their social interactions and relationships, primarily with their families and other caregivers.1

When children experience healthy social and emotional development through positive, responsive family and social relationships, they are able to navigate new situations and experiences. This sets the stage for future learning. Research shows that high social-emotional skills in kindergarten correlate with educational and career successes and fewer interactions with the criminal justice system by the age of 25.2

Family Living Arrangements

Vermont children and families have a variety of living arrangements. As Figure 1 shows, the majority of families in the state are two-parent households, but over one-third have other family living arrangements.

Nurturing Relationships

In order to create loving and nurturing social relationships with their children, Vermont parents and guardians rely on a wide variety of supports. When those supports are strong, parents are most effective in promoting their children’s healthy development. When life is particularly demanding, or social supports are strained, parents are more prone to stress and depression, which can interfere with nurturing interactions with their children.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Current brain and social sciences have shed light on the impact of childhood adversity and toxic stress on healthy child development. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as neglect, abuse, and family/household challenges (e.g., substance use disorder, mental illness, separation/ divorce) have a lifelong impact.

The more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of health and developmental problems including developmental delays, heart disease, diabetes, substance use disorder, and depression. This can create a cycle where parental substance use disorder contributes to the incidence of ACEs in young children, and to the likelihood of substance use disorder later in life. For all these reasons, ACEs are a public health issue.3

SPOTLIGHT ON SUBSTANCE ABUSE: One of the ways to prevent and treat opioid addiction is to begin by understanding its origin in adverse childhood experiences.

In 2011-2012, the percentage of children under age 12 in Vermont with two or more ACEs was higher than the national average (see Table 1).

Addressing ACEs is a statewide issue. One in eight Vermont children have experienced three or more ACEs in their lifetime.4 Fortunately, nurturing relationships and concrete supports
for children and their caregivers can help mitigate the impacts of ACEs. For these reasons, two-generational strategies (those that address the well-being of both parents and children5) are critical to mitigating the effects of trauma and impact of ACEs in order to build resilience in children.

Strategies to Turn the Curve

Below are several strategies currently underway in Vermont to improve social and emotional wellness for young children and families.

Multigenerational Programs

In order to foster positive social relationships for all children and families, a multigenerational approach focuses on creating opportunities and addressing the needs of both vulnerable children and their parents or caregivers.6

Multigenerational programs in Vermont include:

  • Home Visiting: Home visitors meet families in their homes to tailor services and resources to best meet the families’ unique needs. These services help prevent child abuse and neglect, improve maternal and child health, and improve parent education and self-sufficiency.
In Vermont, four evidence-based home visiting models are in use:
  1. Nurse Family Partnership (NFP): Nurses visit rest-time, low-income pregnant mothers and their infants.
  2. Maternal Early Childhood Sustained Home Visiting (MECSH): Nurses visit at risk pregnant and postpartum women and their children until their second birthdays.
  3. Parents As Teachers (PAT): A trained family support worker visits families with children from prenatal through kindergarten.
  4. Early Head Start: An Early Head Start Home Visitor provides support from pregnancy through a child’s third birthday.8

  • Head Start and Early Head Start: The Head Start Program provides a range of education, child development, health, nutrition, and family support services for children ages 3 to 5 and their income- eligible families. The Early Head Start Program provides equally comprehensive services for pregnant women, children from birth to age 3, and their income eligible families.9 During the 2016-2017-program year, 1,083 Head Start and Early Head Start families received at least one family service.10
  • Children’s Integrated Services (CIS): CIS offers health promotion, prevention, and early intervention services to pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children birth to age 6, their families, and child development providers.
  • Parent Child Centers (PCCs): PCCs are a network of
15 community-based non-profit organizations delivering support and education for families with young children throughout Vermont. The goal of each PCC is to provide families with a healthy start, promote well-being, and build on family strengths.
  • Early Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (Early MTSS): Early childhood programs use this framework to create nurturing relationships in high-quality, supportive environments for all children. The Early MTSS framework also provides additional social and emotional support and intensive interventions for children. Early MTSS uses the internationally renowned evidence-based Pyramid Model for Supporting the Social Emotional Competence of all young children11 including children who have persistent challenging behavior.
  • Building Flourishing Communities: This statewide effort trains communities in NEAR (Neuroscience, Epigenetics, ACEs, and Resilience) science with the goal that every community member will be a leader in building environments where all Vermonters thrive.
  • Act 43 Working Group: The Vermont Legislature established this Adverse Childhood Experiences working group “to analyze existing resources related to building resilience in early childhood and propose appropriate structures for the most evidence- based or evidence-informed and cost-effective approaches to serve children experiencing trauma…”12
  • The Strengthening Families Approach: Strengthening Families is a research-informed approach that employs the Protective Factors Framework to support families and child development. The framework includes strategies and tools for building resilience in families, preventing issues of abuse, and leveraging parenting skills to best meet a child’s developmental needs.13

LINK TO VERMONT’S EARLY CHILDHOOD ACTION PLAN: Goal #1, “All Children Have a Healthy Start,” prioritizes evidence-based home visiting as a path towards a healthy start for children. Over the past year, Vermont’s early childhood system focused on streamlining the referral process and improving the management of these programs to increase access for vulnerable families.

Click here to view the full How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families 2017 report


1 American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Parents and caregivers are essential to children’s healthy development. Retrieved from http://www.apa. org/pi/families/resources/parents-caregivers.aspx.

2 Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105, 2283-2290.

3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Adverse childhood experiences (ACESs). Retrieved from acestudy/index.html.

4 Vermont General Assembly. (2017). H-0508 as passed by both house and senate uno cial. Retrieved from Documents/2018/Docs/BILLS/H-0508/H-0508%20As%20Passed%20by%20 Both%20House%20and%20Senate%20Uno cial.pdf.

5 The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2014). Kids count: 2014 data book, state trends in child well-being (25th Ed.). Retrieved from http://www.aecf. org/m/ resourcedoc/aecf-2014kidscountdatabook-2014.pdf.

6 Ascend, the Aspen Institute. (2016). Two-generation playbook. Retrieved from

7 Vermont Agency of Human Services, Department of Health Maternal
and Child Health Division and Department for Children and Families Child Development Division. (2015). Improving outcomes for Vermont children and families through evidence based home visiting (EBHV) programs. Waterbury, VT.

8 U.S, Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, O ce of Head Start. (2016). Head start program performance standards, 45 CFR chapter XIII. Retrieved from sites/default/ les/pdf/hspps-appendix.pdf.

9 Vermont Head Start State Collaboration O ce. (2017). 2017 Vermont head start and early head start needs assessment report. Retrieved from http://dcf. les/CDD/Reports/FINAL_2016_2017_HS_and_EHS_ Needs_Assessment_Report.pdf.

10 Vermont Head Start State Collaboration O ce. (2017). 2017 Vermont head start and early head start needs assessment report. Retrieved from http://dcf. les/CDD/Reports/FINAL_2016_2017_HS_and_EHS_ Needs_Assessment_Report.pdf.

11 Center on Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. (2017). Home. Retrieved from

12 Vermont General Assembly. (2017). H-0508 as passed by both house and senate uno cial. Retrieved from Documents/2018/Docs/BILLS/H-0508/H-0508%20As%20Passed%20by%20 Both%20House%20and%20Senate%20Uno cial.pdf.

13 Center for the Study of Social Policy. (2017). About. Retrieved from https://

Figure References:

F1. U.S. Census Bureau. (2015). Table B09001: Population under 18 years by age (Vermont), 2011-2015. American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from https://fact xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_B09001&prodType=table.

Table References: 

T1. Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health. (2012). Browse by survey & topic: National Survey of Children’s Health, 2011-2012. Retrieved from

T2. Vermont Head Start Collaboration O ce. (2017). O ce of Head Start – Program Information Report (PIR) Summary Report – 2017 – State Level.


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