Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Norlien Foundation Support Two-Country Study Cohort

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The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities will partner with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Norlien Foundation on a three-year project to identify best practices for transforming organizational services that serve as barriers to using brain science effectively on the front lines of social services.

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities will partner with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Norlien Foundation on a three-year project to identify best practices for transforming organizational services as well as the policies that serve as barriers to using brain science effectively on the front lines of social services to advance positive impact for children, adults, and families.

Multiple scientific studies point to the fact that exposure to toxic stress such as violence, abuse, or extreme poverty in the home, can affect children’s brain development, resulting in serious aftereffects that impact their physical health into adulthood. The new project of the Alliance, RWJF, and Norlien strives to determine how to best utilize these findings to inform practices and policies.

A $1.7 million grant from RWJF will support a cohort group of 10 nonprofit, human-serving organizations in the U.S. and five in Canada in studying how the application of trauma and resilience science can transform the practices and policies of nonprofits and human serving systems to better promote the health and well-being of children and families. An investment near the amount of $430,000 will be made by Norlien Foundation to support the work of five agencies in Alberta, Canada.

“There is strong reason to believe that understanding and using information about the impact of toxic stress on the brain can have a profoundly positive affect on how the human-serving sector helps its neighborhoods and communities,” explained Susan Dreyfus, president and CEO of the Alliance. “This project will make great strides toward that goal.”

“The Norlien Foundation is very pleased to be a partner on this important and timely initiative. The knowledge that it will generate is critical to building our collective understanding about policy and practice innovations based on the science and the transformative role that the human services sector can play in applying it for the benefit of children and families, no matter where they live,” said Nancy Mannix, chair of the Norlien Foundation.

The grant will enable the cohort of 15 agencies to learn from each other and share findings across the Alliance’s entire network of members—more than 450 private, nonprofit, community-based organizations.

One of the goals of the project is to study how transformation takes place throughout an organization, from the CEO to the front desk employee. This transformation will also be researched to determine how it can affect an entire community, i.e. the practice, policy, regulatory, and fiscal structures that need to be altered for lasting, meaningful change to occur.

Said Martha Davis, senior program officer, Strengthening Vulnerable Children and Families Team, at RWJF, “This project will help us locate existing policies and practices that limit and guide where we focus our efforts moving forward. In fact, by having participants in Canada and the U.S., we will also see firsthand how different policy and practice conditions affect this work.”

Each organization in the cohort will take part in three components:

-- Knowledge Development of Current and Emerging Brain Science. This includes a series of faculty-led workshops and webinars and an online collection of relevant articles, research studies, and papers.
-- Education and Skill Development in Transformational Work, Theories of Change, and Evaluation. Key agency staff who will be central to coordinating and implementing evaluation tactics will be engaged significantly. Information on transformational models of change and evaluation tactics will be made available through convenings, webinars, and one-to-one coaching conducted by embedded evaluators and the project director.
-- Study Circles. FrameWorks Institute will present Study Circles, convenings of experts, advocates, and practitioners who work on the same social issue and who come together for training in the Strategic Frame Analysis™ approach to communications. Different learning opportunities and venues, including readings, online learning activities, face-to-face workshops, and individualized coaching, will be utilized in the Study Circles for this project.

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities is a national organization dedicated to achieving a vision of a healthy society and strong communities for all children, adults, and families. The Alliance works for transformational change by representing and supporting its network of hundreds of nonprofit human serving organizations across North America as they translate knowledge into best practices that improve their communities. Working with and through its member network on leadership and advocacy, the Alliance strives to achieve high impact by reducing the number of people living in poverty; increasing the number of people with opportunities to live healthy lives; and increasing the number of people with access to educational and employment success. Go to for more information.

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

The Norlien Foundation established the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) as a multidisciplinary platform to invest in improving health and wellness outcomes for children and families in Alberta Canada and beyond. As a knowledge mobilization effort, AFWI shares, promotes and supports the application of knowledge about brain and early childhood development and its link to lifelong mental health and addiction outcomes to prevent and buffer toxic stress and promote healthy brain development for all children.

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