The Children's Center Infant Mental Health Program

Means New Beginnings For Detroit Families

By Stefanie Williams-Hill, Coordinator of Early Childhood Behavioral Health, The Children’s Center, Detroit

The Children’s Center gives the children of Detroit a chance for a new beginning – right from the very beginning. Our Special Beginnings Program focuses on infant mental health by educating caregivers in the language of babies – deepening and strengthening the bond between parents and children.

The Special Beginnings Program primarily serves children in Wayne County from birth to age three and their primary caregiver. It is an in-home program that allows families to work with a clinician for up to 20 hours a week. So why is this program so crucial? Each year in Wayne County, more than 200 babies do not live to see their first birthday. Whether they pass away from disease, violence or neglect, we are out to change that statistic.

The caregivers learn how a baby communicates, what certain cries mean, or why a child might be acting out. Rather than having the belief that the child is inherently bad or unruly, parents and caregivers come to understand the developmental and individual differences in a child that contribute to their unique personality and needs. The Special Beginnings clinicians act as the voice of the child, supporting and fostering the relationship between caregiver and baby. This enables better parenting.

Special Beginnings Coordinator Stephanie Williams-Hill said the program is intensive. Clinicians have a small case load and are able to build trust and a relationship with the families. Families typically stay in the program three to four years, working with the same clinician. Families come to the program in a variety of ways: By calling or coming into the center on their own or after getting a referral from other agency like CFS, local hospitals and Detroit’s Maternal Infant Health Program. Program participants are required to have Medicaid assistance. The Special Beginnings Program provides help in all aspects of parenting, including setting and getting to doctor’s appointments, parenting skills instruction, nutrition and emotional support and counseling.

The short term benefits of the Special Beginnings Program are obvious. Providing support that allows better parenting improves families. One of the long-term benefits is that stronger families can improve the community and provide for a better future for children. Children who have a better beginning will have more success in school, improved physical health, strong mental and emotional health, a strong bond with the primary caregiver and the skills to be better parents themselves someday.

One of the many successes The Special Beginnings program has established is with teen mothers. Teen moms make up a unique segment of the program in that they are learning child development and parenting skills while they are still children themselves. The clinicians are aware of the challenges and understand that a teenager, just as an infant, has not fully developed cognitively. The program provides the support and instruction to encourage teen moms to develop good parenting instincts while still being a teenager. In 2012, about 19% of births in Detroit were to mothers under the age of 20.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the Special Beginnings Program at The Children’s Center should call 313-831-5535.

For more information about all the wonderful programs The Children’s Center provides, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube