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Early relational health between caregivers and children is foundational for child health and well-being. Children and caregivers are also embedded within multiple systems and sectors, or a “child-serving ecosystem”, that shapes child development. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has made this embeddedness abundantly clear, systems remain siloed and lack coordination. Fostering relational health amongst layers of this ecosystem may be a way to systematically support young children and families who are facing adversity. We integrate theory, examples, and empirical findings to develop a conceptual model informed by infant mental health and public health frameworks that illustrates how relational health across the child-serving ecosystem may promote child health and well-being at a population level. Our model articulates what relational health looks like across levels of this ecosystem from primary caregiver-child relationships, to secondary relationships between caregivers and child-serving systems, to tertiary relationships among systems that shape child outcomes directly and indirectly. We posit that positive relational health across levels is critical for promoting child health and well-being broadly. We provide examples of evidence-based approaches that address primary, secondary, and tertiary relational health, and suggest ways to promote relational health through cross-sector training and psychoeducation in the science of early development. This model conceptualizes relational health across the child-serving ecosystem and can serve as a template for promoting child health and well-being in the context of adversity.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Miller, A. L., Stein, S. F., Sokol, R., Varisco, R., Trout, P., Julian, M. M., Ribaudo, J., Kay, J., Pilkauskas, N. V., Gardner-Neblett, N., Herrenkohl, T. I., Zivin, K., Muzik, M., & Rosenblum, K. L. (2022). From zero to thrive: A model of cross-system and cross-sector relational health to promote early childhood development across the child-serving ecosystem. Infant Mental Health Journal, 43, 624– 637, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.