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VITAL is a grant funded project that is studying and promoting the science of relational health and its importance and power for healthy and resilient children, youth, and families.  

The VITAL curriculum will use relational health as a broad term to capture the significant health impact of having both a safe, supportive and nurturing relationship, as well as belonging to a healthy, supportive community. We will address the main health promoting impacts of healthy relationships, especially between the caregiver and child, and consider the mitigating impact of relationships on toxic stress.  The curriculum will describe the latest science demonstrating the connections between relationships and health, interventions providers can use to promote strengthening relationships to improve health, and share practice examples. 

“Relational Health,” “Early Relational Health” and “Foundational Health” are relatively new terms that attempt to capture the interconnectedness between relationships and health. (Willis 2020) Willis defines early relational health as “positive, stimulating, and nurturing early relationships that ensure the emotional security and connection that advance physical health and development, social well-being, and resilience.” (Willis 2020)  Hambrick and colleagues define relational health as “‘connectedness’; essentially the presence of attuned caregivers, family members, mentors, teachers, and community members.”  (Hambrick 2019) Other experts in this field have used the term “social support” to refer to the people who can offer psychological or material resources, and “social integration” to denote active engagement in social activities and a sense of community. (Cohen 2004)  

Coming Spring 2021:

  • Practice Paper on ACEs and Relational Health: A Summary of Current Evidence
  • Trainings for health practitioners to learn how to assess for relational health and respond with appropriate best practices.

Coming Summer 2021:

  • A Community of Practice Series to share tools and case studies, and make connections in the field.

All activities are FREE with priority given to Medi-Cal providers.

For more information about VITAL, the practice paper, and/or the upcoming trainings and community of practice meetings, please contact Sarah Rock at

Relationships Are Vital to Health: The Impact of COVID-19 and How You Can Help

This short and practical paper explains how relationships are vital to health, and what you can do as a health provider to help children and families be healthy in the face of increasing stress and physical distancing. 

The fear and social isolation associated with COVID-19 are worsening existing chronic stressors, as well as creating new ones for families who are experiencing new kinds of adversity.  People are feeling isolated and alone and have less emotional support than they did prior to the pandemic. Relational health can buffer the impact of the pandemic and other recent events, and health providers can play a key role in using this science to help pediatric patients and their caregivers. The paper also includes strategies you can use to reduce the risk of child maltreatment.

Using Relational Health During the Pandemic to Help Prevent Toxic Stress in Your Child, Patients, and Clients (View/Download Here)

Willis, D., Chavez, S., Lee, J., Hampton, P., and Fine, P (2020). “Early Relational Health National Survey: What We’re Learning from the Field.” Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Social Policy. Available at: https://

Hambrick, Erin P., et al. "Beyond the ACE score: Examining relationships between timing of developmental adversity, relational health and developmental outcomes in children." Archives of Psychiatric Nursing 33.3 (2019): 238-247.

Cohen, Sheldon. "Social relationships and health." American psychologist 59.8 (2004): 676.

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