Raising Resilient Children: Pathways out of Poverty

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are a time of tremendous potential and enormous vulnerability. How well or how poorly mothers and children are nourished and cared for during this time has a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive. This is because the first 1,000 days are when a child’s brain begins to grow and develop and when the foundations for their lifelong health are built.

This work of forging pathways out of poverty for children on the margins and preparing them for life success can happen through the global Catholic Church and its parish system; Home, Church, and School; when other infrastructure fails or is absent.

Raising Resilient Children explores the science of early childhood development and how parents, health professionals, and the Catholic Church can positively shape children’s future outcomes.

How is Notre Dame aligning cutting edge early childhood neuroscience with the lived experiences of families? Join Dr. Neil Boothby, Ed.D., Fr. Lou DelFra, C.S.C., and Dr. Carrie Quinn, M.D. ‘96 to learn how the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child works with decision makers across a diversity of sectors, cultures, and political values to offer powerful pathways forward for at-risk individuals, communities, and nations on Wednesday, February 14, 2024.

In the latest insightful segment of “Raising Resilient Children”, titled “Pathways Out of Poverty,” Dr. Neil Boothby and co-host Dr. Carrie Quinn, M.D. ‘96 welcomed esteemed guest Rev. Fr. Lou DelFra, C.S.C to delve into the vital discourse on child resilience and development against the backdrop of poverty.

The episode, which is the third part of the podcast series, intertwined the threads of science and theology, exploring the essential role they play in forging sustainable pathways out of poverty for children living at the margins of society. Kicking off the discussion was Fr. DelFra, who brought to light his collaboration with a scientist on a book that unearthed revelations on the realities often missed by those who do not experience life in developing regions. He cited how liberation theologies have been pivotal in highlighting the struggles of the less fortunate and challenging both science and theology to step up their responsibilities toward these populations.

Boothby, an advocate for science’s role in understanding the importance of formative experiences, pointed out the significant potential for impactful interventions. He drew attention to efforts in countries like Kenya and Haiti wherein science and theology are converging to better young lives. Reinforcing this notion, the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child aims at large-scale programs to alleviate poverty and bring about beneficial change, despite grappling with the typical limitations of funding and grants.

Boothby and Dr. Quinn envisioned Notre Dame as a leading force in combining scientific advancements with theological wisdom, specifically focusing on crucial aspects of child-rearing practices. Considering the enduring effects of early experiences in a child’s first thousand days on their life outcomes, the university’s incorporation of expertise is poised to play a vital role in shaping the future of child welfare with clarity.

The guests  also brought attention to the stark contrast between well-established healthcare systems in developed nations and the minimal neonatal care available in low-resource countries. The Catholic Church was acknowledged for its noteworthy role as a globally influential force in child development and education, providing substantial educational contributions beyond government oversight.

Emphasizing the foundational societal pillars of family, church, and school, the conversation shifted towards exploring how these institutions can be leveraged to empower parents and foster resilient behaviors in children. This line of thinking was complemented by discourse on initiatives aimed at customizing education to accommodate the busy schedules of mothers, with a focus on alternative research methods such as positive deviance studies.

In the U.S., where the healthcare system is relatively stronger, the focus shifted to medical residents catering to the poorest families. Dr. Quinn reflected on the bridging of gaps in training, underscoring the importance of interactions in child development. An initiative close to her heart, the curriculum she helped develop for health care professionals, was shared alongside the Sparks Parent Video Series, a practical toolkit for maternal and paternal nurturing, introduced during medical engagements.

Fr. DelFra connected Catholic social teachings’ emphasis on human relationships and community with scientific findings, highlighting the church’s capacity to aid people in vulnerable situations, as well as the church’s inherent dignity of every person and the responsibility of their well-being that aligns with scientific evidence showcasing the necessity of nurturing relationships for optimal child development.

Dr. Quinn brought the conversation to a close by remarking on Notre Dame’s unique potential to contribute to global challenges. She pointed to the university’s strategic plan and dedication to a mission-driven community, underscoring Notre Dame’s commitment to enacting positive change for the greater good as part of its core identity.

As the conversation concluded, Christine Trinter, Associate Professor and Acting Director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, expressed gratitude to the guests and closed the discussion, directing the audience to ThinkND for more information. The session not only illuminated the intersections of science, theology, and social justice but also framed an actionable blueprint for building resilience in children experiencing poverty. Listeners were left with a sense of urgency and hopefulness for the roles they, along with institutions like Notre Dame, can play in carving pathways out of poverty for the betterment of future generations.


  • The Impact of Early Relationships [36]30:
    Early childhood relationships have a profound effect on long-term health and success; fostering a commitment to building strong, nurturing bonds with young family members or children in the community becomes an imperative.

  • The Power of Education as a Catalyst for Change [20:00]:
    Education, especially when rooted in values like those offered by faith-based institutions, can be a formidable tool against the cycle of poverty.

  • Holistic Measures of Success [04:00]:
    Success should not solely be measured in quantitative achievements but also in the qualitative impact on people’s lives. This encourages a reevaluation of personal and professional goals to encompass a more meaningful and human-centered approach.

  • Subsidiarity and Empowerment [19:20]:
    The insight that supporting the empowerment of individuals at the most local level, a principle known as subsidiarity, can lead to more effective and sustainable change, prompting one to look for ways to enact this principle in community involvement or volunteer work.

  • Embracing Interdisciplinary Synergy [38:30]:
    Combining insights from various fields, like science and theology, can lead to richer understanding and solutions for complex issues, such as child development and education. This synergy can be applied to collaborative projects in personal and professional life.


  • The Interconnection of Faith, Science, and Human Relationships: “Science tells us that we, human beings, are biologically wired for relationships and that neglect and loneliness, for example, are major health and being risks.”
    Christine Trinter [00:13:50 → 00:14:00]


  • Global Impact of Catholic Education: “There’s about 67 million students in Catholic schools around the world, many of them in the most vulnerable environments.”
    Fr. DelFra, C.S.C. [00:35:56 → 00:36:04]


  • Empathy and Resilience in Education: “we’re really trying to– at scale– emphasize cooperation, empathy, that we succeed together. How can we engender pro social behavior as opposed to just harsh discipline when children are not doing what they’re supposed to do?”
    Neil Boothby [00:06:37 → 00:06:48]


  • The Impact of Early Childhood Experiences: “When you really look at problems in the world, you find a thread down to those early experiences and find some way that we can improve those early environments to ameliorate negative outcomes.”
    Dr. Quinn 96’ [00:36:40 → 00:36:57]


  • Preferential Option for the Poor: “So wherever we recognize in society that a person isn’t receiving the necessities they need to fully flourish as a human being, we have to put extra focus precisely there.”
    Fr. DelFra, C.S.C. [00:19:24 → 00:20:23]

Education and Early Development: “Education is a critical pathway out of adversity, but it has to start at birth. And then we go into the theology of it, where, as Lou has said. The home is the domestic church, and parents are their first teachers. This is where learning takes place.”
Neil Boothby [00:38:59 → 00:39:16]

Health and SocietyAlliance for Catholic EducationCatholic Social TeachingDigest164Early Childhood DevelopmentGlobal Center for the Development of the Whole ChildHaitiInstitute for Educational InitiativesMount Sinai Parenting CenterPovertyUniversity of Notre Dame

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