Center for Healthy Child and Youth Development

Photo of children hugging

Children grow up in environments that promote optimum health
and children and their families are able to receive the coordinated care and services they need to ensure that all children achieve their full potential.

Child and Youth Development, a Critical Systems Issue

The early years are a critical period of growth and development. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the experiences and environments that children are exposed to during their formative years play instrumental roles in shaping their futures.

Positive and negative health, social, emotional, and economic consequences often can be predicted from exposures traced back to childhood.

Current models of healthy childhood development support the need to address multiple domains—early care and education, social and emotional development, family support services, parent education, and health care—by using a systems-based approach that involves the collaboration and partnership of multiple agencies and individuals.

Altarum Institute’s Center for Healthy Child and Youth Development aims to serve as a catalyst in promoting progress in healthy child development by operating simultaneously as a research center, technical assistance provider, policy advocate, and partner to organizations with similar goals.

Our Core Strategies for Approaching This Work

Altarum’s work employs a socioecological approach that addresses children, their families, the organizations that serve them, and the communities in which they live, work, and play. In partnership with other leading organizations we:

  • Evaluate, research, and assist efforts that seek to improve child, family, and systems outcomes related to healthy child and youth development;
  • Leverage Center resources to enhance connections between the fields of child and youth development and childhood obesity prevention;
  • Advocate for and disseminate systems change strategies at the organizational, local, state, and national levels; and
  • Build new and sustainable infrastructure and capacities for Altarum and its partners.

Altarum's History in Promoting Healthy Child and Youth Development

The Institute’s work in early childhood system building initiatives dates back to the mid-1990s. Early work centered on providing technical assistance to a variety of initiatives funded through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Altarum’s efforts supported 112 Community Integrated Services grantees, the Healthy Child Care America initiative, and the Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Initiative. Together, these efforts involved work with leading national early childhood organizations, and teams of expert practitioners in every state.

In 2008, Altarum invested $2.5 million over a 2-year period in its Childhood Obesity Prevention Mission Project (CHOMP). Through CHOMP, Altarum staff conducted five early childhood obesity prevention projects in nine states and Washington, D.C. These efforts focused on improving environments and policies related to early childhood education and care systems; the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; and registry-based body mass index surveillance systems for monitoring the obesity epidemic in young children.

Center Initiatives and Partners

  • Verification of Partner Commitments—Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA). PHA is a nonprofit organization that works alongside, but independently from, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to garner commitments of significance from the private sector to reduce childhood obesity. Altarum provides objective, third-party support to PHA to develop and implement verification plans for partner commitment that document progress toward achieving their commitment goals.
  • Healthy Eating & Physical Activity in Early Childhood and Afterschool Programs—YMCA of the USA (Y-USA). Y-USA provides early childhood and afterschool programming to more than 700,000 youths nationwide. In 2011, Y-USA made a commitment to PHA to implement comprehensive healthy eating and physical activity standards in these settings to prevent childhood obesity. Altarum is conducting a comprehensive, multiyear evaluation study to assess the extent to which Y’s implement these standards in their programs.
  • YMCA Evaluation Capacity Assessment—Y-USA. In 2012, Altarum conducted an evaluation capacity assessment of local Y’s to determine their potential to implement outcome evaluations of local programs and initiatives. By using a variety of assessment tools, including surveys, focus groups, key informant interviews, and site visits, more than 1,000 Y staff members participated in the assessment process. The findings from this work will be used by Y-USA to develop an evaluation capacity building plan and to inform future evaluation capacity assessment efforts of nonprofit organizations.
  • Community Transformation Grant—Y-USA. Altarum is working with Y-USA to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of their Community Transformation Grant. The goals of this project are to expand the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program to reach more African-American/ Black and Hispanic/Latino populations, implement healthy eating and physical activity standards in early childhood and afterschool programs serving these populations, and achieve jurisdiction-wide health impact through implementation of jurisdiction-wide changes. Altarum is working in partnership with Y-USA to evaluate implementation and outcomes from this work.
  • Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards Training—Y-USA. Building Healthy Programs for Kids: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards Training is a Y-USA course for afterschool providers on healthy eating and physical activity standards. Altarum is using the Kirkpatrick Method to assess the effectiveness of this course in helping local Y’s to implement healthy living standards afterschool programs.
  • Eat Well, Play Hard in Day Care Homes —New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). Based on their evidence-based intervention, Eat Well, Play Hard in Child Care Settings, NYSDOH has launched the Eat Well, Play Hard in Day Care Homes project, one of the first interventions in the country targeted specifically at preventing obesity in family day care home environments. The goal of this 12-month intervention is to improve the nutrition and physical activity environments and practices of family day care homes. Altarum is conducting an evaluation of this project to assess behavioral and environmental outcomes as well as the potential for more widespread dissemination of this model.
  • Promoting Positive Parenting (Triple P)—National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). Triple P is an evidence-based system of interventions designed to enhance parental knowledge, skills, and confidence to prevent behavioral, emotional, and developmental problems in children. NACCHO is conducting a demonstration project that aims to develop appropriate models to support the implementation of Triple P through federally qualified health center and local health department partnerships. Altarum is conducting an evaluation of this initiative to examine the process, successes, and challenges these partnerships face implementing Triple P in their communities.
  • Before/After School and Summer Pilot Program–Michigan Department of Community Health. This pilot program is designed to increase physical activity and healthy eating in before- and afterschool and summer program settings through funding local agencies to implement physical education and nutrition curricula, programs, and policy and environmental changes. Altarum is conducting an evaluation of the program to assess implementation activities, successes and challenges, and alignment of local pilot initiatives with national best practice standards.


The Center for Healthy Child and Youth Development is led by Lincoln Smith, Altarum president and CEO and acting director of the Center, Karah Mantinan, MPH, RD, deputy director of the Center, and Chris Botsko, senior specialist in community and systems change.

Ms. Mantinan is a senior specialist in Policy, Planning, and Evaluation at Altarum, where she manages research and evaluation projects that focus on community health, obesity prevention, early childhood, nutrition, and physical activity.

Mr. Botsko directed Altarum’s work on the ECCS initiative from 2002-2011 and continues his work supporting community and systems change in early childhood through his work at the Center.

To learn more about the ongoing work of the Center, please email or For general information about Altarum, contact Ken Schwartz at