Thinking Outside the Toybox
October 2017

Leveraging Non-Traditional Partnerships in MCH

Anna Watson
Program Analyst, Child and Adolescent Health
Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs

As professionals in maternal and child health (MCH), we spend a great deal of time considering potential partners when designing programs. Most of us would likely be confident in assuming that a company that makes games like Jenga and Twister would have never shown up on anyone’s list of potential partners, particularly in MCH programming. However, the folks leading The Autism Project (TAP) in Rhode Island have proved our assumptions wrong.

This summer I attended the Peer-to-Peer exchange (P2P) meeting in Warwick, R.I., where current and former State Public Health Autism Resource Center (SPHARC) grantees gathered to share innovative practices and lessons learned in implementing family navigation programs within their states.

Numerous promising practices emerged from the meeting, but one that stood out for me was the establishment of non-traditional partnerships. We tend to stay within our public health-focused networks when we think about partnerships. While these networks are undeniably robust, attending the P2P meeting served as a welcome reminder of the importance of “thinking outside the box” when brainstorming potential partners that can enrich our MCH programs.

The leaders from TAP (one of the SPHARC grantees) shared their successes in forming a non-traditional partnership that ultimately led to the creation of sustainable resources for caregivers and educators of children with developmental disabilities (DD).TAP teamed up with Hasbro, Inc. (which is located in Rhode Island)— to create a set of tools, grounded in evidence-based practice, that make the act of playing easier and more accessible for children with developmental disabilities (DD). The Toy Box Tools contains step-by-step instructions with colorful visuals that teach children with DD three increasing levels of play –  basic, expanding, and social – for Hasbro games such as Jenga, Chutes and Ladders, and Twister. The tools include videos and playbooks.

Because of this partnership, these resources are now available, at no cost, to anyone. As any public health professional knows, sustainability is always a key component in ensuring lasting impact of our programs. One way to ensure sustainability is to form relationships that assist in this venture — and not just traditional collaborations, but also those that we may not immediately think of. Attending the P2P meeting served as inspiration to emulate the practices of TAP and to think creatively in our never-ending quest for sustainability.