She went to San Francisco where she had the opportunity to work providing parent-infant psychotherapy, with clients in the prenatal to 3 age group on a multi-disciplinary team including: physical therapists, nurses, psychologists, community health workers and more. This team approach to supporting families taught her a lot. She worked as a marriage & family therapist using T. Berry Brazelton’s TouchPoints Philosophy, where one of the assumptions is that parents are the experts on their children. The goal was to strengthen the parent-child relationship and to educate parents about child development and what it looks like at all ages and stages. These families had many challenges, from substance abuse to domestic violence as well as post-partum depression. Brazelton’s approach was to remember that every parent wants to do well by his or her child, even in families with the most challenging situations.
She became pregnant with her first child and moved back to Illinois, where she grew up. She stayed home with her child, had another baby and worked limited hours in private practice, primarily supporting clients, young and old, who had experienced trauma and attachment disturbances. In 2012, she & her family had the opportunity to live in Spain. When they returned to the US, she was trying to figure out how she could get back into working with infants and young children. She researched infant mental health certification programs online and didn’t find anything – the only ones she found involved flying on a consistent basis to places like Boston or San Francisco which didn’t work for her at this stage of her life.
When she found APPPAH and the PPNE certification, she was so excited to finally find a program where she could learn at a pace that worked for her and her family. Knowing there was a mentor available was helpful, along with the support through Facebook was also really appreciated.
In 2014, Debbie found a job in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA supporting home visiting programs in a state that ranks usually as the worst in terms of child well-being. Having worked with clients in the past who had experienced trauma, she wanted to support families before trauma had occurred. If trauma goes unresolved, people can’t typically function like they would like to function. When parents are traumatized as children, it is likely it will impact them as adults, if unresolved, and carry over in how they parent their own children.
Home Visiting in New Mexico is defined as a Prevention Promotion Model. The goals are to prevent child abuse and neglect, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and to promote optimal child and family well-being. The emphasis is on supporting the parent-child relationship, connecting families to resources and implementing early childhood curriculums that educate parents on what typical child development looks like. Emphasis is placed not only on strengthening the parent-child relationship but also forming a strong bond between home visitor and parent. Through this relationship, trust and a sense of safety can be established where parents feel comfortable opening up and sharing what is challenging for them. Within home visiting, there is a concept called the parallel process, coined by Jeree Pawl, a leader in the field of Infant Mental Health. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto others.” The idea is how we treat others in a kind respectful, nurturing way, treat others in a similar way. By home visitors treating parents in this way, the goal is that parents will interact with their babies in this manner.
Another component of home visiting is reflective practice. Home visitors, who are trained in reflective practice, go into the homes and ask parents questions to see how they understand their baby. If the parent had ACEs growing up, do they want their child to grow up differently? The reflection by the home visitor encourages the parents to reflect about how their past experiences affected them and how it might currently be affecting their baby as a result. Through this reflection, home visitors assist families in setting goals that align with the family’s values around parenting. It is the relationship with the home visitor that allows parents to see what strengths they bring and to build upon existing capacities to be self-reflective and the kind of parent they would like to be.
The exciting part for Debbie is to integrate the information she learned about prenates in the PPNE program into the information that is conveyed to programs that work directly with home visiting families, including talking to parents about what they’re going through in pregnancy and how their stress levels impact their baby.
Debbie currently works for the University of New Mexico’s Center for Development and Disability Home Visiting Professional Development Team and works as a Home Visiting Training and Development Consultant.
She’s hoping to start her PhD in Infant and Early Childhood Development at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California in the fall. Research areas of interest include studying how attachment is defined cross culturally and how the parent-child relationship acts as a resiliency factor when a child has endured trauma. She wants to continue working in prevention and infant mental health.
You can read an article Debbie wrote about babies here: http://www.cdd.unm.edu/ecln/HVT/common/pdfs/2015_12.pdf
Debbie recently graduated from our PPNE program. We’re so excited about the work she’s doing in the world!