Social-Emotional Health is Often Invisible, But It Still Needs Support
In Bountiful, Utah, on Dec. 1, 2016, a young boy fired a gun into a classroom full of middle school science students. No one was physically injured, but there were other kinds of injuries.
Aliza, the daughter of NICHQ Project Director Colleen Murphy, MSMOB, was in that classroom. And the shooter was one of Aliza’s friends. That day changed everything for Aliza and Colleen.
Before the shooting, Aliza played sports, excelled at theater and music, and had a vibrant social life. Now, nearly 18 months later, she struggles to cope with severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite regular therapy sessions, she missed 21 school days in the first half of this year alone.
“I feel the most comfortable in my room,” Aliza explains. “I never leave my room and when I do it’s just high anxiety all the time. Social settings are not very fun. My therapist says my world is getting too small. I need to take baby steps.”
“My daughter once told me her disability is invisible, and she’s right. But not being able to see it doesn’t make it any less real,” says Colleen. “It affects her social and emotional health and her development. It affects her chances to succeed. My daughter is a walking reminder that we need to focus on mental health in addition to physical health and we need systems that support all aspects of children’s health, even those that are invisible.”
For Aliza, those systems and supports are helping her move forward and take those baby steps. Aliza is on a 504 education plan that describes how her school can best help her learn while managing her disability. This plan, along with her therapy visits and her family’s support provide a restorative environment for her to learn the skills she needs to cope with her new reality.
“Building systems that support health holistically—that’s one of the reasons I joined NICHQ,” says Colleen. “I’m especially focused on interventions that create socially supportive environments that promote peer interactions and social-emotional development. It’s this social-emotional development—the ability to decipher right and wrong, manage emotions, understand and empathize with others, control feelings and behaviors, and build relationships with others—that most predicts children’s success in later life. I want that success for Aliza.”
Improved systems would not only support her daughter’s health, but could have changed the shooter’s life.
“I look at her friend, this young boy who brought a gun to school, and I ask myself, ‘what happened? When did this child’s social-emotional development get off track? How can we better understand how he ended up in that classroom with a gun changing the lives of so many children in our community?’ And for me, the answers start in early childhood and the solutions start in our early childhood and family systems.”
Robust systems that share knowledge and share data. Systems that offer a multigenerational approach to children’s health. Systems that strengthen families by sharing resources and supports so that less children end up in a classroom firing a gun. These are the systems Colleen is passionate about developing.
“I think about our Pediatrics Supporting Parents project, which plans to brings these interventions right into the pediatrician’s office,” she says. “Social-emotional development, parental mental health and the relationship between parents and children—all these essential needs can be addressed during the well child visits that happen in those early years of life.”
By focusing on these critical pieces, we can help change the tide for children who may be in jeopardy. Find out more about what we’re doing to improve children’s health outcomes here.
One Step Closer to the National Norm of Infant Safe Sleep and Breastfeeding
Consistent, evidence-based advice on safe sleep and breastfeeding, whether in a hospital or at home, could improve maternal and infant health outcomes, save babies’ lives, and address significant racial disparities. Learn how a national initiative is seizing every opportunity to support caregivers and babies by working with hospitals and prenatal care centers, social service agencies, and other community touch points across the country.
Improving Healthcare Environments for Vulnerable Newborns
NICUs provide life-saving care for preterm babies. But, they can also expose babies to a high level of chemicals at an especially vulnerable period of life. Here, learn about a first-of-its-kind study on the long-term impact of environmental exposures in the NICU.
How States Can Better Support Community Early Childhood Efforts
Providing families with comprehensive services that actually fit their needs starts by elevating the work at the community level to inform policy and program improvements. New York’s approach to synergizing state and community work offers a valuable framework for other states to take up in their own systems-change efforts.
Heath Equity: What You Can Do
Because not everyone has equal opportunity to the resources needed for health and well-being, disparities are pervasive right from the earliest years of life. But where does an individual start? How does one person make a dent in a systemic and structural problem? Find three ideas here.
How to Improve Health Systems for Families: One Mom's Investment in Change
In 2004, after experiencing severe preeclampsia, Tara Bristol Rouse quickly learned just how complicated the health system can be. Now, after 15 years of advocacy, she’s sharing making things easier for families across the nation.
Families Drive Better Outcomes in Children’s Health
Christy Blakely and Elizabeth Aquino both have daughters with special healthcare needs. And both went on to become passionate family partners, advocating for change in the health system. When you read their stories, you'll see that change is possible, thanks to the power of family voices.