An Interview with Catherine Strode
Lisa Jansen Thompson is a leader in the field of early childhood mental health in Colorado. She has worked on building and enhancing systems for young children over the past 20 years. Currently, she is overseeing the local implementation of Project LAUNCH, a federally funded project focused on children’s overall health and mental health.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Lisa says the state has made great strides in its efforts to build supportive early childhood systems and in adopting a “two-generation” approach to strengthen the social networks of families and impact early childhood mental health.
How is the state supporting early childhood mental health?
“As a local community, we work to align our efforts with state level efforts. The Office of Early Childhood with the Department of Human Services is funding early childhood mental health specialists in almost every county. There is commitment at the state level to have early childhood mental health specialists in every community and to begin to build that capacity for communities to better support early childhood mental health. The state’s Department has made a commitment to early childhood mental health by developing the position of Early Childhood Mental Health Director, Jordana Ash. That Division of Early Childhood Mental Health has developed an early childhood mental health strategic plan that talks about policies, sustainability, professional development, and better coordination of programming. This plan is going to guide some of the future of the work that is happening around the state in early childhood mental health. The Department of Human Services embraces both the Two-Generation approach and the Strengthening Families approach. They have programs that are dedicated to those two areas. From a state level, there definitely is support there. I think it’s a question of, ‘How does that information and support actually best get implemented on the ground level and trickle down to the local communities?’ That’s where our community is working to best align our approaches as well.”
How is the ‘Two-Generation’ approach impacting early childhood mental health?
“The Two-Generation approach is stepping out of our service model of either supporting children or supporting adults and looking at how do we best support families. It’s about how we support the entire family so they have what they need as a whole, both as a parent and as a growing child. These two approaches, the Two-Generation approach and the Strengthening Families approach, go side by side. We have to support families in order to support children. Children do not grow on their own; they grow within the context of relationships. They have to be part of a family that is doing well and thriving in order for them to be doing well and thriving. I think we can’t just treat children. We have to treat the entire family. The Two- Generation approach, the Strengthening Families approach, thinking about the social determinants of health, all of that has to be a part of the work that we do if we are really going to prevent future mental health needs.”
What do those approaches ‘look like’ in the practice of serving families and kids?
“It looks like when we’re meeting with a family, we’re talking about what they need to be successful, l not just what their child needs to be successful. We’re willing to step outside our comfort zone of what it takes to parent children to saying, ‘If you need housing, if you need a job, if you need support around issues of domestic violence’ that we’re willing to make sure that this family gets connected with what they need. That is how I see it being different from how we thought of things in the past, which focused on the child’s well-being and supporting parents to support children. We’re now saying, ‘ We also need to support parents in just being adults and being parents.’ We know adults need to be thriving in order for their kids to be thriving.”
Is there state policy in effect to support this approach to early childhood mental health?
“One example is the CCCAP program (Colorado Child Care Assistance Program.) The CCCAP program was started as a Welfare-To-Work Program to help families receiving public benefits get jobs. Families who were looking for jobs, or had secured jobs, and were living in poverty qualified for their child care to be paid for so they could work. That policy in the past was more about the parents and just about making sure the children had a place to be during the day. What has shifted in policy over the last couple of years is we now have used the Two-Generation approach to say that high quality child care is essential for these children, especially children in poverty. There are now incentives in place for programs who accept CCCAP to become high quality; they now receive a higher rate of reimbursement in payment than before. It’s now about educating parents about the importance of choosing high quality care. In the past, child care assistance was approved more on a short term basis. Policy has shifted so the child is guaranteed a year’s worth of care even if the parent loses a job and has to find another one. It’s more about a dual purpose of the parent getting work and the child getting consistent high quality child care.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.