Coming Together to Support Early Childhood Mental Health

Jenny Bouchie

The foundation for sound mental health is built early in life. From birth to age 3, our experiences with parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers, and peers shape our developing brains. When this developmental process is disrupted, our capacity for learning and relating to others can be impaired, with lifelong consequences. This is why early detection and intervention for mental health issues is so important, and why the Miller-Dwan Foundation supports our community’s Early Childhood Mental Health Resource Team. By improving children’s relationships and experiences early in life, we can help reduce the increase of problems such as high school drop-out rates, homelessness and incarceration

Established 10 years ago, the group is a forum for Duluth area service providers to consult with other professionals from multiple public and private agencies. Its purpose is to promote the social-emotional health of children from birth to five years through family resource consultation. “We get a whole bunch of people who care about little kids in a room together,” says Jenny Bouchie, a faculty member in the Unified Early Childhood Studies program in the University of Minnesota Duluth Education Department. For two years, Bouchie has been the facilitator of the group, which hears cases from members and then offers suggestions for solutions. Family concerns that are addressed include:

  • Sleep issues
  • Challenging behaviors (biting, hitting)
  • Mood/worry
  • Communication
  • Safety
  • Attachment/healthy relationships
  • Coping
  • Eating
  • Sensory issues
  • Child development
  • Family stress

Solutions typically range from suggestions for services from local agencies to specific ways adults can respond to children in order to build healthier relationships. All consultations are free, confidential and the family’s identity is kept anonymous.

The benefit to the community is a unified group of professionals working together through more than 20 organizations, including Amberwing Birth-Kindergarten Program, UMD Unified Early Childhood Program, St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services, Essentia Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center, College of St. Scholastica Social Work Program and many more.

Although Bouchie estimates the group has helped dozens of families over the years, one of the biggest benefits is for group members themselves. “This allows professionals to keep their network close and share resources, so they don’t have to scramble to find services,” Bouchie says. “By coming together, everyone can see there is this group of people who understand what each other is doing and can help alleviate some of the loneliness we may sometimes feel as professionals.” The group also keeps each other updated on new teachings, research and services. They often discuss new strategies and share what they have learned in recent trainings. “People leave the meetings feeling fulfilled,” says Bouchie. “It’s an hour and a half of the month networking to help people solve problems, which is why we are all there.”

For more information about the Early Childhood Mental Health Resource Team, contact Jenny Bouchie at ECMHRT@gmail.com. Click here to learn more about how your gift to the Miller-Dwan Foundation helps support community health programs like these.