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Start Young to Build Children’s Emotional Resilience

In 2018, Wyandotte Health Foundation became one of the first supporters of a new initiative in Wyandotte County, led by The Family Conservancy (TFC), called Start Young.

The opportunity was made possible by Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund through Communities Aligned in Early Development and Education (CAEDE) and matched 1:1 with funds from the private sector. This public-private collaborative is designed to improve the childcare landscape in Wyandotte County by: increasing access and availability of high-quality, full-day, full-year child care for working families; helping families afford quality care; providing professional and educational incentives for educators; and supporting quality initiatives for providers.

The first five years of life are critical to a child’s healthy development. During this time, 90 percent of brain growth occurs. For children to reach their full potential, it’s important that the individuals caring for them know how to support healthy physical and cognitive development. Quality interactions, developmentally appropriate activities, positive emotional connections to parents and caregivers, and healthy nutritional habits prepare children to be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for kindergarten – setting the stage for success in school and in life.

As young children’s brains develop and they begin to feel strong emotions, developmentally, they are not yet equipped to understand what they are experiencing. As they respond to these new feelings, they may demonstrate challenging behaviors. When not properly addressed with developmentally appropriate mechanisms, this can lead to negative outcomes and perpetuate the behaviors. Adversely, when parents and teachers are given a toolbox to assist the child through the period, they can teach them social emotional coping tools which can last a lifetime, and the child can build a positive bond with the adult, increasing protective factors which lead to positive outcomes for children and families.

Furthermore, when children are routinely exposed to stressful situations, their cortisol (stress hormone) levels are elevated, and this can exacerbate the challenging behaviors. Unaddressed, this can have negative long-term effects, even on their physical health. Compared to other children in Kansas, children in Wyandotte County are more likely to live in a single-parent household, a household experiencing poverty, or a household experiencing unemployment, conditions which often increase family stress.

Through Start Young, TFC’s clinical social workers provide early childhood mental health services to children. This work includes intensive coaching with teachers to help children self-regulate and to integrate social-emotional learning and development in their curriculum. One teacher states, “Ms. Christine, and Ms. Deb are the best. They have the patience and hearts of angels. Their training has helped me with my personal mental health when things get tough in the classroom or with life in general. They’re great at what they do.” Providing this relief and support so educators can build coping skills, helps to reduce their stress and oftentimes, lessens teacher turnover.

Additionally, our social workers host parent events and classes. This provides similar tools to parents, and allows the themes implemented in the classroom to be supported at home. The Conscious Discipline curriculum has been well received by the families served by Start Young. Following the five-week class, one mother shared, “I was able to take something from each class and apply it to my daily life – it has helped tremendously! The work definitely is not over but it has helped empower me and help me feel more confident that I can help my kiddos navigate hard feelings!”

As the pandemic recovery continues, the Start Young project’s ability to address the immediate need for childcare while focusing on improving the entire system, makes it a true present and future solution to many of Wyandotte County’s most dire needs.

Story written by Jocelyn Mourning, Vice President of Advancement, The Family Conservancy
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