Amid a global pandemic, with increased cases of COVID-19 reported everywhere every day, with rates climbing, with calls out seeking health care workers to come to hospitals and medical centers, with the news reporting outbreaks in every part of the world, and death, the Connecticut Association for Infant Mental Health (CT-AIMH) considered:
What do infant mental health professionals and leaders need during this time?
And thus, begins another day with Zoom meetings galore, masks on when out, 6 feet apart when nearing others, and wondering when it will all end, when will the vaccine come, when will we return to something near normal.
The following suggestion was one that was shared as the CT-AIMH worked to maintain relationships through virtual experiences and opportunities for our members and our Infant Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) community.
What do we,
those good infant mental health folks,
while we wait,
while we wonder,
and while we listen?
You could try starting your day with,” Good morning, (your name)”
and if you can,
place your hand on your heart and add,
“I love you (your name).
To begin our work during these unprecedented times, in March, our Executive Director and Board of Directors posted a Letter of Hope to our members on the CT-AIMH website. This letter was followed by a list of categorized resources for use by our professionals in infant and early childhood mental health and set the stage for more ‘personal’ ways to reach out and relate.
In Connecticut, the CT-AIMH Executive Director (ED) presented to the Board of Directors (BOD) the possibility of creating opportunities to meet on a daily basis with our members. “Every day???” “That’s too much”, said some. Nevertheless, we went ahead and posted an invitation to our members to join us at noon, Monday – Friday (every business day), for 45 minutes, for the entire month of April. We called it: “Help for the Helpers”.
Why every day? We wanted to be as available as possible to hold our members during this time when everything about their current way of working was changing. CT-AIMH wanted to hear what the infant mental health workforce was experiencing, to offer ways to cope, to provide a space to share resources, to create manageable professional development opportunities and to provide some time for joy. We knew everyone could not come to every session. We wanted to maintain our relationship with our members by being available as frequently as possible and at a predictable time.
The topics and facilitators were the same for each particular day of the week, but the content and participants varied. For example: Monday’s facilitator remained the same for each Monday, and the focus for Monday’s group remained the same throughout the month, but attendees were not bound by that. Attendees could choose to attend Monday and Thursday one week, and then Wednesday and Friday the following week.
On Monday we invited conversation with each person having the opportunity to share how she/he was staying connected with families, how folks were coping (both families and providers), and how the Association could support or help with connections needed. Our BOD member, Margaret Holmberg, IMH-E®, led this group. Frequently people shared that they were staying connected via phone or internet and that families were eager to talk. Some commented that families liked this form of ‘visiting’, while others voiced concern about not being able to see the child in-person, missing their energy or tone. Providers seemed to have their own resources and routines that were helping them cope (walking, baking, meditating, singing, staying connected with family). Many were coupled with the added responsibility of having their own children at home as their new co-workers, as schools closed. They were also mindful of the families they were serving now, having multiple children of all ages at home, and needing to consider providing resources/activities for those older children.
On Tuesday we focused on mindfulness and self-care. Videos and articles about mindfulness featuring “Palouse Mindfulness” were shared, along with different mindfulness meditations, art activities, poetry and more. Here is one example: Take a pencil, draw some squiggly lines. Now take some crayons or colored pencils and color in the enclosed areas. Now write the names of those who have a meaningful relationship to you in the colored spaces.
This group was facilitated by our Executive Director, Heidi Maderia, IMH-E®. With a consistent facilitator, we learned that what you practice makes you stronger, and practicing together, alongside others, helps everyone feel like they are capable of setting aside time to practice slowing down. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment (attention), on purpose (intention), without judgement (attitude). This is great infant mental health advice, as well as good self-care advice. Many spoke about their need to stay connected to others (co-workers, extended family, or friends). This topic was requested to continue.
On Wednesday we held a professional development opportunity where we listened to chapters from Michael Trout’s book, This Hallowed Ground – Four Decades in Infant Mental Health (2017). Michael Trout is a clinician, an author, and a leader. He was the founding president for both the Michigan and the International Associations for Infant Mental Health, a charter member of the Infant Mental Health Journal Board, and an early leader for WAIMH in the US. He has been in the infant mental health field since 1968. Michael’s powerful voice resonated passionately with all who joined us. The discussion for this group was led by our Endorsement® Coordinator, Heather Bonitz-Moore, IMH-E®. This professional development opportunity was also one of the days that was requested that we continue.
On Thursday we introduced people to the Padlet. A Padlet had been created and was housed on the CT-AIMH website, where many COVID-19 related resources for providers, families, and parents were posted. This could be added to and viewed in real time. Our Board member, and co-chair of the Promotion and Education Committee, Jennifer Vendetti, lead this session and was an inspiration for all of us. We posted Alexander Smith McCall’s (2020) poem, “A poem for Trouble Times”, from his book, In a Time of Distance. Remember McCall’s dinner speech to us during the 2014 Congress in Edinburgh?
And then, with the unexpected upon us,
We look at one another with a sort of surprise;
How could things possibly turn out this way
When we are so competent, so pleased
With the elaborate systems we’ve created — (McCall, 2020)
Friday was a no talk day. It was strictly a movement and dance party. Children were invited to participate, and together we all moved, danced, and sang to music that was provided by our ED. “Everything in the universe has rhythm, everything dances” (Angelou, 2020).
May was a month of planning and working to convert many of our highly valued Infant Mental Health (IMH) training series onto a virtual platform. The first series to be offered virtually was offered in Spanish, for a cohort of family childcare providers who did not want their training to stop because of the virus. This was our first virtual pilot and was very positively received. We did need to offer orientation/support for “how-to” Zoom to be sure participants were comfortable accessing and using the new on-line platform.
Next, we moved on, to plan for the monumental task of converting our 8-day IMH training series, into a virtual event. There were many lessons to learn from others, as we listened to the comments about Zoom fatigue, the difficulty in offering trainings in the afternoon. We wondered how we could effectively engage participants in a training about the value of “relationships”, virtually?
We finally were able to arrive at a model that we could start using. The model blended the use of live lectures, used the poll and chat functions, and created small discussion groups. These groups not only held the same participants throughout the entire series, but also employed facilitated discussion group leaders that were assigned to the same group, for the entire series. Working on maintaining relationship within the restrictions of an online delivery system, was new to us.
And then came June. Not only were we still under the COVID thumb, but we also came to our knees confronting the inequality not only in health care but also in our justice system and throughout our communities. Where is infant mental health? How can it help?
Heidi continued to lead weekly sessions called Mindfulness Mondays. Again, we invited clinicians and supervisors to join the professional development Wednesdays to listen to Michael Trout describe his clinical work of 40 years. This audio book is available from MI-AIMH store. Listening to Michael Trout read his casework is both provocative and compelling, inviting us to listen and wonder about the complexity and power of relationship-based practice to heal and transform. We highly recommend this activity for all, but particularly for clinicians.
We sponsored an on-line book launching of The Power of Discord: Why the Ups and Downs of Relationships Are the Secret to Building Intimacy, Resilience, and Trust with authors psychologist, Ed Tronick, and pediatrician, Claudia M. Gold (2020). They describe how disruption and repair are necessary for growth. We discussed whether this applied to our US racial status as well as infant and parent relationships. This virtual opportunity was available to our Alliance colleagues, as well as our Connecticut members, and friends.
We also held a virtual film screening of one episode of the 5-part documentary, The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of our Nation (2017). This film focused on looking at our current childcare system and policies that affect children and families. It also focused on the value that our country currently places on the early years of childhood versus the significance of investing in policies that support the Early Childhood Education workforce, communities, children and families, for the ultimate success of our society.
These June sessions were co-sponsored by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, and our audience expanded beyond our members, to all professionals working with very young children and their families.
Finally, to help our workforce, who might have more time to put their portfolios together and to begin the process for Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-Focused Practice Promoting Infant Mental Health® we offered an online Endorsement® orientation facilitated by the Endorsement Coordinator. The focus was on how to get started and was an introduction to our website, with a step-by-step video on how to navigate applying for membership. This was followed by another step-by-step video on how to apply for Endorsement®. Feedback from this pilot led us to decide it would be a good use of the Endorsement Coordinator’s time to offer a similar introduction on a regular basis, on a set day/time each month.
JULY and ongoing 2020
CT-AIMH began the month by creating a statement of solidarity, declaring our continued commitment to stand together with our black colleagues, friends, families, and communities. Then CT-AIMH’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, that formed out of our 2-year focus on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Implicit Bias, met for the first time.
CT-AIMH is determined to ensure that opportunities for relationship building, connection, and professional growth are not going to end just because the world is experiencing such BIG life altering events. Instead, we are working to create shared experiences for all.
To slow down,
and turn toward all the feelings that might be coming up while learning
some new way
of staying in relationship.
At the same time,
we want to hold out hope for the future
with forward movement
and to create space
to celebrate our shared joys,
no matter how small.
Angelou, M. (2020). 101 Amazing Maya Angelou Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.birthdaywishes.expert/maya-angelou-quotes/#:~:text=Short%20Maya%20Angelou%20Quotes%201%20Be%20a%20rainbow,can%20dim%20the%20light%20which%20shines%20from%20within.
Connecticut Association for Infant Mental Health website: www.ct-aimh.org
CT-AIMH Statement of Solidarity. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.ct-aimh.org/ct-aimh-releases-a-statement-of-solidarity/
McCall Smith, A. (2020, March 19). “A Poem for Troubled Times.” Retrieved from www.alexandermccallsmith.com
Palouse Mindfulness: Online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Retrieved from https://palousemindfulness.com/
The Raising of America, the documentary series about changing the conversation of early childhood (2017). [Video file]. Retrieved from https://raisingofamerica.org/
Tronick, E. & Gold, C. M. (2020). The Power of Discord: Why the Ups and Downs of Relationships Are the Secret to Building Intimacy, Resilience, and Trust. Retrieved from https://thepowerofdiscord.com/#ordAer
Trout, M. (2017). This Hallowed Ground – Four Decades in Infant Mental Health. Audio Book. Retrieved from https://mi-aimh.org/store/this-hallowed-ground-four-decades-in-infant-mental-health/
Margaret Holmberg, PhD, IMH-E®
Board of Directors for Connecticut Association for Infant Mental Health and for the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health.
Heidi Maderia, MS, IMH-E®
Executive Director for Connecticut Association for Infant Mental Health