Newswise — Ballmer Group, the philanthropic organization founded by Connie and Steve Ballmer, is giving $4.2 million to University of Chicago’s TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health to fund its work that develops a model for a community-wide approach to promote cognitive and language development in young children.

The initial phase of the work will be to partner with Palm Beach County, Fla., as the site for the first community-wide rollout of TMW programs. Working alongside Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, the TMW Center will embed its suite of evidence-based interventions within the community’s already existing health, education and social service systems. Program implementation is slated to begin in fall 2019 in birthing hospitals and will extend into pediatric clinics and community-based organizations. The goal is to reach at least 60 percent of children up to age 3 and their families by the end of 2023.

“This generous backing from Ballmer Group will help us better understand what it takes to achieve a population-wide change in parent and caregiver behavior related to fostering healthy early brain development,” said Dr. Dana Suskind, co-director of the TMW Center and director of the pediatric cochlear implant program at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital. “We want to use this as a model that will both inform future partnerships and serve as an example for others who share our commitment to supporting families.”

The TMW Center, a joint venture between UChicago Medicine’s Biological Sciences Division and the University of Chicago’s Division of the Social Sciences, was co-founded by Suskind and economics professor John List. The center evolved from Suskind’s Thirty Million Words, a research initiative designed to help narrow the language gap among children from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Its mission is to create a population-level shift in the knowledge and behavior of parents and caregivers to optimize foundational brain development in children, from birth to age 5, particularly those born into poverty.

“We want to put parents and caregivers at the center of their children’s education to ensure their children develop healthy brains and are thriving by the time they enter kindergarten,” Suskind said. “We couldn’t be more aligned with Ballmer Group’s desire to reduce poverty by focusing on very young children and their parents. And we have a shared commitment to leveraging data to make progress with individual families and across entire communities.”

Through its philanthropy and advocacy, Ballmer Group support efforts to improve economic mobility for children and families in the United States who are disproportionately likely to remain in poverty.

"Early childhood education is one of the most critical investments we can make for our country's children and future. Recognizing parents as their children's first teachers, we are excited to support TMW's promising work to embed early learning services for parents directly into the healthcare system. We hope learnings from the initial community demonstration site will help identify what works, for whom and why, so that these best practices can be scaled to other communities," said Dr. Raychael Jensen, Portfolio Manager - Early Childhood at Ballmer Group.

To date, TMW Center programs have reached more than 3,000 families in the Chicago area alone, with early results indicating an increase in parent and caregiver knowledge of brain development, an improvement in the quality and quantity of parent-child interactions and richer early language environments for children.