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.
Using Pediatric Group Visits to Promote Social Emotional Development
Boston Children’s Hospital launched an innovative pilot program focused on using group pediatric visits for 2 ½ year old children to provide parents with enhanced guidance around supporting children’s social emotional development.
Making Fathers Visible in Maternal and Child Health
From cognitive and social emotional development to education and accomplishments, children with involved fathers achieve better health outcomes. Yet despite fathers’ positive impact on maternal and child health, many of the systems intended to serve women and children were not designed with fathers in mind. That’s why we’re sharing strategies to increasing father involvement in early childhood programs.
Racial Inequality and Injustice and the Health of America’s Children
Our nation is hurting. Many are afraid, angry, anxious, and frustrated as we witness institutional racism and social injustice, once again, ravaging communities of color. NICHQ CEO Scott D. Berns calls for meaningful change to end to systemic racism and injustice in our country.
Indianapolis Gives Moms and Babies in Prison a Healthy Start
Committed to championing a too-often forgotten population, Indianapolis Healthy Start partnered with the state’s women’s prison system to ensure that moms and babies could receive all recommended services and supports, starting with prenatal care and continuing for two years after birth.
Innovative Strategies for Promoting Developmental Health in Rural Alaska
In Kodiak Alaska's remote island community, it can be difficult for families to connect with public health and community resources, especially during the early years of life when children are developing rapidly. Learn how they're leveraging innovative strategies to promote developmental health in this article.
Seven Strategies for Conducting Successful Services Virtually
Across the country, health and social service providers have had to find news way to support children and families in the face of COVID-19. Home visiting services, pediatric well-child visits, prenatal care and mental health appointments have largely had to transition from in-person appointments to visits virtually—either via phone or video. By learning how to conduct a successful virtual visit, health and social service providers can help ensure children and families receive the support they need during and after this pandemic.