Start Center - Strategic Analysis, Research & Training Center
Northwest Center for Public Health Practice

Anne Althauser: Investing in Early Childhood Initiatives

Anne Althauser: Investing in Early Childhood Initiatives

The Strategic Analysis, Research and Training (START) domestic program recently completed its first round of faculty-student projects. In part one of this two-part series, Research Assistant Anne Althauser speaks about her work and the lessons she learned through the project.

Many public health students crave hands-on experiences to expand their skills and make them more marketable to future employers. Students in the Strategic Analysis, Research and Training (START) domestic program, housed at NWCPHP and launched last fall, were able to do this recently by completing the program’s first rapid consultation projects.

The first installment of this series features Research Assistant Anne Althauser and her work with public sector leaders in King County, Washington on the Best Starts for Kids project. For this project, Althauser was mentored by Health Services Assistant Professor Jennifer Otten, PhD, RD.

Best Starts for Kids
Over the course of five months, Anne Althauser studied government-funded prevention initiatives around the country to learn what political climates, community engagement, and communication strategies led to their approval by voters. Her research will help local officials prepare the Best Starts for Kids levy, which supports early childhood investments and will be presented to King County voters later this year.

The risk for many chronic diseases in adulthood can be reduced by improving health in the prenatal and early childhood periods, said NWCPHP Director Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH. The domestic START team was excited to contribute to an initiative which has the potential to improve health in our local communities.

Through the project, Althauser learned about the importance of early childhood education and how people across the US are turning their attention to this topic. One of the most important things she learned is that there is no right way to fund and implement early childhood programs.

There really is no one-size-fits-all way to do this, she said. These types of initiatives vary greatly depending on location, political environments, funding, and more.

Althauser conducted 26 program reviews and 15 in-depth interviews, of which she presented a summary to local government leaders. It was wonderful to connect with people equally as excited about this topic and eager to advise King County on what worked for them, she said.

Picking up the phone and calling people is a great skill, and one that feels lost now in the tech age. I gained so much more from calling folks and making that interpersonal connection than by simply looking for information online.”

The interviews taught her that communication is the most important element in gaining public support for early childhood campaigns. Messaging around the potential return on investment is also critical.

Through this experience, Althauser gained a deeper understanding of public health policy. There are many stakeholders involved, and what works in one place may not work in another,” she said. “I continually heard about the importance of being transparent with the public and encouraging their involvement in decision-making. These are things I will definitely remember and apply when working in public health policy in the future.

With the first domestic START projects wrapping up this spring, Althauser will graduate with her MPH and look for similar project-based consultation work. Kwan-Gett feels that the Domestic START program has had a strong launch. Thanks to our partnership with Public Health – Seattle & King County and the fantastic mentorship by our faculty Jennifer Otten and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, our research assistants have had a great educational experience that will help them hit the ground running on future public health practice projects.

Read this article in its original format on the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice  website.

Photo credit: Northwest Center for Public Health Practice