HEYC Who We Are
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

Who We Are

The Learning Collaborative on Health Equity & Young Children serves as a point of connection for state and community leaders, policymakers and practitioners to work together to address root causes of health disparities and promote health equity for young children across the United States. The Learning Collaborative creates systemic change by educating, connecting and mobilizing state and community leaders, policymakers and practitioners to promote health equity. 

The Learning Collaborative itself is a partnership between the BUILD Initiative and the Child and Family Policy Center, supported by a generous grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Collaborative Partners

The BUILD Initiative (BUILD) and Child and Family Policy Center (CFPC) have worked together since 1992 on early childhood systems building and evaluation, with a particular focus upon developing culturally and linguistically responsive and inclusive early childhood systems.

BUILD and CFPC launched the Learning Collaborative on Health Equity and Young Children in 2015. This partnership connects state and community early childhood systems leaders, who BUILD supports, and health practitioners and champions, who CFPC is organizing into a collaborative for innovation, a CoIN.

Through the Learning Collaborative on Health Equity and Young Children, BUILD and CFPC connect these stakeholders and facilitate learning from one another to further both policy and practice reform, better integrate the assets of the health and early learning systems and promote equitable outcomes for young children.

The BUILD Initiative is a support system for state leaders who seek to develop comprehensive systems of programs, policies and services that meet the needs of young children and their families.



CFPC is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that promotes outcome-based policies that improve child well-being.


Collaborative Staff 


Charles Bruner and Sherri Killins Ed.D serve as Co-Principal Investigators for the Learning Collaborative. The biographies of key staff are provided below: 

Charles Bruner

Charles Bruner serves as Executive Director of the Child and Family Policy Center, a nonprofit organization he established in 1989 "to better link research and policy on issues vital to children and families."  He holds a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University and served twelve years as a state legislator in Iowa.  Through the Child and Family Policy Center, Bruner provides technical assistance to states, communities, and foundations on child and family issues. He serves as the Research and Evaluation Director of the BUILD Initiative and heads the State Early Childhood Policy Technical Assistance Network (SECPTAN).  Bruner has led much of BUILD’s work on diversity and school readiness, on system building evaluation, and on the role of health practitioners in children’s school readiness.

Bruner has written widely on early childhood issues, including: analyses of public investments and their potential economic returns; analyses of data and measurement systems for early learning and development systems; development of linguistically and culturally responsive early learning standards and systems, examination of the health practitioner’s role in young child development, and development of neighborhood and community-based structures that strengthen families and communities in supporting healthy child development.  He recently participated in UNESCO’s World Conference on “Early Childhood Care and Education: Building the Wealth of Nations” as an expert panelist on both “Innovative Financing Strategies for ECCE” and “Ensuring Inclusion in ECCE.”

Bruner has been a consultant to a variety of foundation initiatives – including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Northwest Area Foundation, and the Milbank Memorial Fund – and is a frequent presenter to national groups and initiatives, with a particular emphasis upon developing comprehensive service systems for vulnerable children and families. Through the BUILD Initiative, and with funding from the Colorado Trusts and the Kresge Foundations, Charles Bruner worked with BUILD staff to organize four invitational forums to state health and early education leaders on health’s role in early childhood systems building – including ones on health mental development, family-centered health homes, and health equity and young children – drawing upon leading practitioners and systems developers for each. His work on the role of health in responding to social as well as biomedical determinants of health in young children spans thirty years.

Charles Bruner will be the co-principal investigator under this grant and will lead the strategic design and development of Strand Two of the work.

Angélica Cárdenas-Chaisson

Angélica Cárdenas-Chaisson is a Policy Associate at the Child and Family Policy Center (CFPC), with an emphasis in health equity and young children. She brings expertise in early learning, family support and community engagement to the Center's work. Ms. Cardenas-Chaisson led the work to produce the Fifty State Chart Book: Dimensions of Diversity and the Young Child Population and she co-produced Top 10 Things We Know about Young Children and Health Equity. These resources, among others, upon which she has collaborated have helped to highlight the need to focus attention on poverty, place, and race/ethnicity in early childhood systems building. 

Ms. Cardenas-Chaisson received her B.A. in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). She has a Master's of Social Work with an emphasis in children and families from the University of California at Berkeley (UCB). As co-leader of the CFPC team, Ms. Cardenas-Chaisson’s role in this initiative is to engage and connect practitioner champions across the country, identify and summarize innovative programs and practices in the field, support the work of the CoIN and ensure its connection with the state policy work. In addition, Ms. Cardenas-Chaisson will continue to develop policy briefs and data tools.

Susan Hibbard

Susan Hibbard, executive director of the BUILD Initiative, has more than 20 years of experience in the areas of early learning, early childhood systems, and social change with a focus on research and analysis, strategic planning, project management and skills training. As BUILD’s executive director, she  oversees its daily operations, directs the BUILD staff team, and coordinates governance and financial management with fiscal sponsor Third Sector New England.

Susan also designs a vibrant learning community for state leaders to foster peer-to-peer networking and information sharing on a wide range of early childhood topics. She additionally oversees BUILD’s research and evaluation efforts, and manages the publication and dissemination of the BUILD Initiative’s research and policy briefs.

As project director of the Early Childhood Funders’ Collaborative, Susan oversees the groups work and develops programming. The collaborative is an association of national, regional and local foundation representatives with an expressed funding priority in early childhood care and education. Susan provides support to the group’s steering committee as well as to many of the ECFC’s workgroups and collaborative projects.

Susan did her undergraduate work at Bryn Mawr College and received her M.A. from the New School University.

Brenda Jones

Brenda Jones, DHSc, RN, MSN, WHNP-BC, CCHC works as a pediatric nurse surveyor for The Joint Commission, where she performs analysis and evaluation of hospital delivery systems across the country. Previously, Dr. Jones held was the State Deputy Director and Maternal and Child Title V Director for the Office of Women’s Health at Illinois Department of Public Health where she was responsible for coordinating a comprehensive approach to women and children’s health issues across their life span.  She provided leadership oversight in several areas, including the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening, WISEWOMAN Cardiovascular, Maternal Child, and Family Planning Programs. She has a passion and vision for establishing health equity and reproductive justice. 

Dr. Jones earned her Doctorate of Health Science (DHSc) from Nova Southeastern in Florida with a focus on patient safety.

Sherri Killins

Sherri Killins, Ed.D. is the Director of State Systems Alignment and Integration for the BUILD Initiative and an independent consultant.  She is responsible for working directly with state leaders to advance early childhood systems efforts in health, early learning and family support. She is leading work to define and create intentional practice regarding equity in early childhood system practice, policy and leadership within the work of the BUILD Initiative. In her current work with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, she is the campaign state liaison for Mississippi, Michigan and New Jersey.

 Dr. Killins was the former Commissioner of Early Education and Care for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Under her leadership, Massachusetts secured the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge to provide financial resources to accelerate the work already underway in Massachusetts.

 Dr. Killins resides in New Haven, Connecticut with her husband and is the mother of three daughters.

Carey McCann

Carey McCann is the assistant director of state services for the BUILD Initiative. She supports state leaders to design and develop effective early childhood systems, set policy that guides implementation of services, and advocate for children birth to age five. Carey came to BUILD from more than 12 years at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, where she served as senior manager for the National Policy Team and led its consultation practice and peer learning with 18 states on early childhood policy and advocacy strategies.

Prior to her national work, Carey coordinated the Ounce’s Birth to Five Project, a statewide effort to identify system gaps and barriers, develop solutions, and link the many efforts that were already underway for children birth to five in Illinois. Carey developed expertise in social-emotional development and early childhood mental health policy. She advanced the mental health consultation model developed by the Early Childhood Committee of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, and managed implementation of the Assuring Better Child Health and Development Initiative with the Illinois Medicaid agency, which focused on primary health care’s role in developmental, social-emotional, and maternal depression screening. 

Carey started her career with six years in child welfare in Rochester, New York. She is a board member of the Illinois Association for Infant Mental Health. Carey has a B.A. in psychology from the University of Rochester, and a M.A. from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration with a concentration in policy and non-profit management, and a family support fellowship.

Mary Nelle Trefz

Mary Nelle brings a public-health perspective to her work at CFPC. As a policy associate, she conducts research on various health policy issues to help inform legislation and develop evidence-based policies that protect and promote the health and well-being of children. She is CFPC’s lead researcher and state evaluation partner on Iowa’s 1st Five Initiative, an adaptation of the nationally-recognized Help Me Grow program which has secured state policy funding and Medicaid claiming under both regular and administrative claiming mechanisms.

Mary Nelle received her B.S. in Health Policy and Management from Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island and completed her Master's of Public Health in Community and Behavioral Health at the University of Iowa. As co-leader of the CFPC team, Ms. Trefz’s role in this initiative is to manage specific knowledge building aspects of the CoIN (such as the development of young child health metrics that include social determinants and the use of family advocates as part of care coordination teams responding to child health) through both secondary research and information gathering from exemplary initiatives and select prototyping of new approaches among CoIN participants, and organizing and facilitating the work across health champions in the field.

Michelle Stover Wright

Michelle Stover Wright is the Director of Research at the Child and Family Policy Center focusing on program and systems evaluation and early childhood and family policy work. She works closely with the BUILD Initiative, focusing on national evaluation efforts and managing the network of BUILD state evaluation partners.

Michelle co-leads Early Childhood Iowa’s efforts focused on early childhood systems development, racial equity and family engagement. She also serves on several Iowa leadership councils, including the Iowa Early Childhood Advisory Council, the Project LAUNCH State Young Child Wellness Council and the Central Iowa ACEs Steering Committee. She was recently appointed to the Iowa Department of Public Health's Maternal and Child Health Advisory Council.

Michelle received a B.A. in sociology with a concentration in women’s studies from Drake University and an M.S. in sociology from Iowa State University.

Charles Bruner, Angelica Cardenas-Chaisson, and Mary Nelle Trefz have worked together over the last eighteen months to enlist practitioner champions and national and state leaders in child health systems transformation. They have developed framework documents and materials on health equity and young children that already have informed child health practice. They will be supported within the Child and Family Policy Center by Michelle Stover-Wright, who heads CFPC’s research and evaluation work overall.

Advisory Committee

In addition to the staff, there is a Kitchen Cabinet of child health experts who are providing guidance and direction to the Collaborative in designing and launching the Collaborative Innovation Network (CoIN) on Health Practitioner Roles in Healthy Child Development.

Contact Information

Email us at [email protected]