/ April 10, 2021

Early Childhood Mental Health Network: Supporting parents of children with mental health challenges

When Yudelka Ramirez’s son – now 11-years-old – was just a toddler, she felt frustrated by his behavior. Her older daughter had never acted out the way he did. She realized he needed help, but she didn’t know what kind. It was another mom who explained the steps she could take to address her son’s behavioral challenges, which she now knows were rooted in mental health and developmental issues including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Today, Yudelka’s job is to do the same for other parents. As a Family Peer Advocate with The Child Center of NY – the Queens provider for the Early Childhood Mental Health Network – she supports parents of young children with mental health challenges.

Many people don’t know much about early childhood mental health, or much about mental health at all. Yudelka helps them understand – often sharing her experiences with her son to build trust and rapport. While the children participate in therapy sessions at the clinic, Yudelka spends time with parents, talking through challenges and offering support, tips and referrals.

Her work includes leading workshops for families on topics such as bonding and attachment, positive parenting, and her favorite, the parenting journey. This is an intensive 12-week workshop where parents talk about how their own upbringing influences their parenting, and their goals for their children. It’s not easy for participants to share those intimate details, especially at first. But those who go on the journey thank her for helping them think about parenting in a new way.

“As a parent, and I know this from experience – you feel so great when somebody cares about you,” Yudelka says. Many of the parents she works with are struggling with their own challenges – including domestic violence, maternal depression, and divorce – and they don’t know how to support their child during these challenging times. Yudelka listens without judgment. The people she works with come from all different backgrounds – they are African American, Latinx, Bengali, Chinese, and more. She says understanding and respecting a family’s culture is a key part of her success – it allows the parents to express themselves freely, which helps Yudelka identify what they need.

“I don’t see the people I work with as clients – I see them as family,” said Yudelka. From all she’s seen in her work – she knows one thing for sure: If you want to support the mental health of a child, it starts with supporting the whole family.

AT A GLANCE: Early Childhood Mental Health Network

• 7 early childhood therapeutic centers, open to all New York City residents, offer specialized mental health treatment for children from birth to age five – and their families
• Families served have access to family peer advocates and ongoing support
• Therapy is provided by licensed mental health professionals who receive specialized training in evidence-based practices and early childhood development
• Mental health professionals consult with Department of Education-partnered early childhood programs to strengthen capacity of teachers and caregivers to meet children’s mental health needs

• Over 6,400 have received a mental health consultation through this program
• Trained 4,722 early childhood professionals in mental health best practices
• Over 3,400 parents and families received peer support services
• In the most recent reporting period, 82% of families referred to an Early Childhood Mental Health Network Clinic by an early childhood program made their first appointment