Helping to promote a healthy bond between mother and child

April 10th, 2019
Christa Garcia (left) and her daughter Olivia with clinicians Amber Williams (right) and Caroline Kosino, who are with Southwest Solutions’ Early Childhood Mental Health program

When Christa Garcia first enrolled her daughter Olivia in our Early Childhood Mental Health program, it was ordered by the court.

“I had a negative attitude when we started the program three months ago because I mistakenly thought it was about telling me how to raise my child,” Christa said. “So I was resistant at first. But the turning point for me was when I understood that the program was trying to help me so I could build my bond with Olivia the right way.”

The Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) program provides home-based clinical services to families with children birth to six years old. It also serves pregnant women. Services are offered in both English and Spanish.

Olivia is three years old. A year after she was born, Christa experienced postpartum depression and didn’t know how to cope. She self-medicated through substance abuse, leaving Olivia with her husband at home when she went out to get high. The drug use got her in trouble with the law. Christa has been clean for year now, and she’s determined to lead a different life going forward. She is 34.

The ECMH clinician working with Christa and Olivia is Amber Williams. Through play activities, Amber guides Christa so she can develop a nurturing, strong and healthy relationship with Olivia. Amber makes suggestions to Christa about how to be more engaged and attentive in her interaction with Olivia, how to incorporate words and language into the activities, and how to reinforce Olivia’s curiosity and abilities to enhance her self-esteem and natural love of learning. Amber also counsels Christa about appropriate discipline that is caring but firm, good parenting strategies, the importance of patience, and understanding developmental needs, transitions and milestones.

“Amber has become much more than our counselor,” Christa said. “She is a family friend and we trust that she always has our best interests at heart.”

Christa credits the ECMH program with improving her and daughter’s behavior and relationship in many ways.

Olivia celebrates an accomplishment during an ECMH session. She is seated between clinician Amber Williams (left) and her mom Christa.

“Olivia communicates better,” Christa said. “She’s more polite and patient. And so am I. She pays attention and doesn’t interrupt. She’s also more sharing and considerate. She used to be self-confined, but now she’s more outgoing. She puts things away after playing with them. And she finishes one task before starting another, and this has actually inspired me to do the same.”

Studies show that the development of social skills and the ability to regulate one’s emotions are very important for a child’s future success in life.

“These social and emotional skills are learned though the most important relationships that a child has, which is usually with his or her primary caregivers,” said Caroline Kosino, who leads Southwest Solutions’ ECMH team. “These primary relationships establish the foundation and expectations for the relationships that the child will have in adulthood. A child who enjoys a strong and healthy bond with the parent or caregiver is much more likely to have healthy relationships when he or she grows up, and thus be happier.”

Like many parents participating in our ECMH, Christa has experienced trauma in her own life. She has come to understand how that trauma negatively affected her relationship with her daughter, even though her deepest desire is to protect Olivia from harm and to help Olivia become successful.

“I want Olivia to make good decisions and stay positive even when things go wrong,” Christa said. “I want her to take the right steps in life and focus on her own wellbeing and happiness. I want her to know that I was a good role-model and did my best for her.”

For more information about ECMH, email Caroline.

To be eligible for the ECMH program, you must be:

  • A resident of Wayne County
  • Covered by Medicaid or MiChild (ECMH is able to enroll only a limited number of non-insured participants)
  • Pregnant or a parent with a child 0-6 years old

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