Leading with Hope: Takeaways from the Desmond P. Kelly MD Nurturing Developing Minds Conference 2024

Nurturing Developing Minds early childhood Conference 2024
Tanya Camunas (A Child’s Haven) presenting at the Nurturing Developing Minds Conference.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the 2024 Nurturing Developing Minds Conference, part of the event “Cultivating Lifelong Family Well-Being”, cohosted with the Institute for Child Success, Furman University’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health and SC LEND, and generously sponsored by Prisma Health Children’s Hospital and Prisma Health Evaluation & Research Institute. This event took place at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Read on for the top takeaways from NDM event organizer Megan Carolan, about this year’s event which offered exciting opportunities for learning and professional development for early childhood professionals.

Collaboration Over Competition – A Range of Early Childhood Topics

Desmond Kelly MD and Kerry Sease.
Desmond Kelly MD (ICS Board Member, University of South Carolina School of Medicine) with Kerry Sease (Institute for the Advancement of Community Health at Furman University).

ICS has long described NDM as an early childhood event with a cross-sector focus, but this year brought it to a new level.  This year’s conference was once again co-hosted by ICS and SC LEND, but this year it was part of a broader, two-day event in partnership with the Institute for the Advancement of Community Health (IACH) at Furman University. Titled  “Cultivating Lifelong Family Well-Being,” it combined NDM with IACH’s longstanding Community Health Forum – a perfect partnership given both organizations’ focus on addressing disparities and health at the systems-level.

Sessions focused on a range of topics:

  • Maternal health equity
  • Evidence-based programs for improved birth outcomes
  • Suspension and expulsion in early childhood programs
  • Inspiring educators and incorporating fathers’ perspectives
  • Outdoor learning
  • Working with traumatized children
  • and more early childhood topics

Combining forces improved the reach of both events and introduced new audiences to both. It also helped remove barriers to access for attendees, supporting our vision of a more equitable sector: by combining events into the same location and offering registration discounts and scholarships, attendees were able to join from across the budget spectrum. This mindset held in our sessions, as well, where many combined panelists from different sectors across the field rather than only centering one perspective; for example, attendees at The Critical Role of Health Assessment in Contemporary Early Care and Education Classrooms and Programs heard from those engaged in both the school-based and health-based worlds of early childhood assessment in one conversation. Attendees even left Thursday with free access to a crucial resource, The Practical Playbook III: Working Together to Improve Maternal Health, an open-access reference book focused on maternal health edited by Dorothy Cilenti, a speaker during IACH’s Community Health Forum.

The Power of Pink – Early Childhood Advocacy

Looking through our photo gallery after the event confirmed what I noticed in-person: pink was a powerful color at the event! I noticed it on quite a few attendees and speakers, and it is the signature color of attendees from the South Carolina Early Childhood Common Agenda (ECCA).  The ECCA coalition is led by ICS, Save the Children Action Network, and the South Carolina Infant Mental Health Association, with dozens of community advocates dedicated to improving outcomes for young children (age 0-5) and their families. The ECCA is designed to present a united front on matters related to early childhood health, education, and family well-being to policymakers in South Carolina; ECCA members engage with elected officials, advocate for their communities, and attend events to broaden their knowledge of the field. We were thrilled to have members of the ECCA in attendance at the event.

Pink was an intentional choice for the members of the ECCA: a bold shade that no other group in South Carolina had laid claim to, that stands out whether at a conference or in the halls of the statehouse. And, an acknowledgement of the role women play in these sectors that most directly serve young children, yet are underpaid, overworked, and under-supported.

ECCA Members Attending Nurturing Developing Minds Conference
ECCA Members Attending Nurturing Developing Minds Conference: Nora Curiel Munoz, Upstate Family Resource Center in Spartanburg; LaVonda Paul, Small Impressions Child Development Center in Taylors;  Wykina Warner, ECCA parent advocate; Citlaly Rojo, ICS Palmetto Intern.

HOPE – The Importance of Early Relational Health

David Willis MD presents at Nurturing Developing Minds 2024.
David Willis, MD (Center for the Study of Social Policy) presents at Nurturing Developing Minds 2024.

During his Friday morning keynote on early relational health, Dr. David Willis spoke at length about the importance of early relational health and opportunities to incorporate this into our work. He spoke about going from ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to HOPE (Health Outcomes of Positive Experiences). He shared the Four Building Blocks of HOPE, a framework developed at Tufts University, a partner in Nurture Connection:

  • Relationships
  • Environment
  • Engagement
  • Emotional growth

These are four elements found in research to have a buffering effect against adverse experience and trauma for families and young children. They also are threads that wove through many of our sessions across the two days. Everyone came to the event well aware of the challenges facing young children – but also, committed and determined to improve their ability to support them, to not give up in the face of systemic challenges.

Hope is what brings our attendees together, what they built up and refreshed throughout the event, and what they took back out into their work.

Thank you to all those who came together to hope with us.

We would like to thank our sponsors of the 2024 Desmond P. Kelly MD Nurturing Developing Minds Conference 2024, including our title sponsors for the two-day event Prisma Health Children’s Hospital and the Prisma Health Education and Research Institute; NDM conference co-host The South Carolina Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (SC LEND); NDM event sponsor The South Carolina Developmental Disabilities Council; NDM keynote sponsor Greenville First Steps; breakout sponsors Julie Cline, and Kincaid Retirement and Wealth Management; and reception sponsors Rosenfeld Realty Group, Count On Us Controller Services, Southern First Bank, the Bradshaw Family Foundation, Molina Healthcare, and Uptown Company.

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