Family & Social Relationships


Grandmother and happy baby

Young children learn about the world through their relationships

Young children learn about the world through their social interactions and relationships, primarily with their families and other caregivers. Children’s sense of, “who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to other people,” depend upon the quality and stability of their relationships with others. Babies whose needs are met through positive, nurturing interactions develop a bond of attachment with their families and caregivers in which they learn that the outside world is a welcoming place. With this security, infants are more likely to explore and interact with their environment. This social learning sets the stage for children’s development in other areas, including their cognitive development. How well Vermont children engage with their environment, and the quality of their experiences, depends largely on their social and family relationships.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Unfortunately, some children experience adverse experiences during early childhood. Adverse experiences fall into three categories: family/household challenges (e.g., substance abuse, mental illness, separation), neglect, and abuse.

The more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of health and development problems including developmental delays, heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression. Fortunately, research also indicates that nurturing relationships “with caring adults as early in life as possible can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress response.” This is why strong, nurturing family and social relationships, particularly with parents and guardians, are critical for young children.

The context for social and family relationships

Raising children is one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs the world has to offer. The parents and guardians who care for Vermont’s children, like parents and guardians around the world, rely upon 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 weak, parents are more prone to stress and depression, which can interfere with nurturing interactions with their children. For these reasons, two-generation strategies, those that address the well-being of both parents and children, are particularly important.

Two-generation programs

Vermont implements several programs that support young children and their families.

Head Start and Early Head Start

Head Start and Early Head Start promote the school readiness of children from low-income families by providing them with comprehensive services. Head Start serves three- and four-year-olds and five-year-olds not age-eligible for kindergarten, and Early Head Start serves children under the age of three and pregnant women. During federal fiscal year (FFY) 2016, the total federal Office of Head Start-funded enrollment in Vermont was 1,447 slots (Head Start: 1,014; Early Head Start: 365; Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership: 68) at seven Head Start programs, of which, four offer Early Head Start programs, and two offer Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. This represents approximately 20% of all Vermont Head Start and Early Head Start age-eligible children below 100% of federal poverty level (FPL).

Children’s Integrated Services (CIS)

Vermont’s Department for Children and Families’ Child Development Division (CDD), Children’s Integrated Services (CIS) provides a range of services to pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children 0-6, their families and specialized child care providers. In state fiscal year (SFY) 2015, CIS had contact with almost 5,000 individuals. Additionally, more than 80% of those who received services from CIS in SFY15 and the first half of SFY16 achieved one or more goals established through their coordinated services plan called OnePlan.

Strengthening Families™

Strengthening Families is a research-informed approach to increase family strengths, enhance child development, and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. CDD supports implementation of Strengthening Families with grants to high-quality early care and learning programs. In 2014, 43 programs were awarded grant funding. Also, the Strengthening Families Demonstration Project provides intensive family services to families who have open family support cases with Vermont’s Family Services Division who were assessed as being at “high or very high risk” of maltreating their children in the future. In the first 1½ years of this program, 7% of children with open cases entered state custody. Historically, this rate has been close to 30%.

All content is from BBF’s 2016 publication of How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families. 
Citations, figures and tables available here 

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