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Holding the Holders: Cultivating Reflective Spaces for the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Workforce During Multiple Pandemics

Ashley McCormick, The Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health, Southgate, Michigan; Sheryl Goldberg, Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health, Southgate, Michigan; Harleen Hutchinson, The Journey Institute, Inc., Tamarac, Florida; Christine R. Hughes Pontier, Florida Association for Infant Mental Health, Riverview, Florida; Ashley Bowers and Lana Shklyar Nenide, Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health, Madison, Wisconsin; and José Silva, Colorado Association for Infant Mental Health, Denver, Colorado


As the infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH)-informed workforce adapted to the unexpected and challenging events brought on by COVID-19, associations for infant mental health (AIMHs), whose primary role is to support the workforce, stepped up and offered what very few organizations could during the onset of the pandemic: opportunities for consistent, predictable, and reflective conversations with colleagues. As 2020 progressed and the epidemic of systemic racism in the United States was further revealed, AIMHs again stepped up and offered the workforce the ongoing support needed to authentically show up for Black and Brown babies and families with cultural humility and sensitivity.

A majority of the states in the United States have established or are in the process of establishing an association for infant mental health (AIMH). AIMHs pursue their mission of promoting optimal social–emotional development and relational health for babies and young children by building and supporting a reflective, skilled, culturally sensitive, and relationship-based infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH)-informed workforce. AIMHs understand and are responsive to the unique challenges that this workforce faces as they support babies and their families through promotion, prevention, or intervention/ treatment programs. These challenges are even more acute when families are facing chronic adversity. AIMHs know that when babies, young children, and families experience grief, pain, and weariness, the workforce can experience it, too, known as the parallel process. This sentiment has never been truer than during the COVID-19 pandemic. The workforce is challenged with holding their own stress, uncertainty, and health right alongside the families in their care.

Within a matter of weeks of the onset of COVID-19 in the US, AIMHs’ leadership recognized that the workforce needed additional support and quickly responded. AIMHs stepped up to support the IECMH-informed workforce, while the workforce held the incredible worries of vulnerable families. Although finding reprieve and solace seemed like a distant hope, AIMHs figured out ways to provide those for the workforce. Amidst unprecedented confusion, uncertainty, and fear, AIMHs offered places where the workforce could be seen, heard, and supported.

If facing the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t already challenging enough, in 2020 the US saw a large increase in racism and violence toward people of color. While racism has deep roots in this country’s formation and has always quietly had an impact on the lives of many of its citizens, the social, economic, and political climate of the last many months has exposed and normalized overt racism. Fear, anger, and worry are frequent companions, triggered by all that is and is not happening. COVID-19’s impact on Black, Indigenous, and people of color families has highlighted the ongoing effects of racial disparities in social determinants of health and the reality of systemic inequities. The IECMH-informed workforce not only face these challenges within their own lives, but they also bear witness to the struggles experienced by the families with whom they work.

The Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health (Alliance) and AIMHs in Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin each responded to the needs of their workforce by providing additional opportunities for engagement in reflective spaces. Although each of the opportunities created by these AIMHs were unique, they all shared the same goal: to hold the holders. These groups offered a sense of steadiness and calm amongst the uncertainty and a place for connection during an isolating time. The parallel process was evident across groups—both the feeling of connectedness and satisfaction, but also the depth of anguish and heaviness all participants have felt at times.

As of this writing, we look back on how things were before COVID-19 and realize that what lies ahead remains unknown. But Brené Brown, a social science researcher and author, reminds us of one thing that we know for sure, “Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering” (2013, p. 8). AIMHs offer incredible connections for the IECMH-informed workforce, just as the workforce offers invaluable relationships to the babies and families they support.

The Work of the Alliance

The Alliance partners with AIMHs so that AIMHs can support, grow, diversify, and advocate for their local IECMH-informed workforce. To date, the Alliance membership includes AIMHs from 32 US states, Ireland, and Western Australia. The Alliance began hosting two online reflective meetings for leaders of Alliance-member AIMHs during the fall of 2020 as COVID- 19 ravaged communities across that nation. The meetings were designed to be holding groups for those affected (directly or indirectly) by the COVID-19 pandemic, racism, oppression, and/or injustice in their IECMH work. These reflective opportunities were created in response to leaders who expressed the need to process and find support for the troubling stories they were hearing and circumstances in which they were finding themselves. The intent of this time together is to “hold the holders,’’ meaning to provide a scheduled time for reflection for those who carry the stories and/or programs on behalf of the IECMH professionals they support. These groups invite reflective conversations but are not meant to be reflective supervision groups. Both groups continue to operate monthly.

Education, Reflection, and Compassion

One of the groups was intended for providers of reflective supervision and consultation and direct service IECMH practitioners and has been facilitated by Dr. Harleen Hutchinson, who is associated with the Florida Association for Infant Mental Health (FAIMH). Dr. Hutchinson continues to offer this meeting twice monthly, for 60 minutes. At the onset of the group, Dr. Hutchinson created a space that allows for sharing, relearning history, and reeducating participants about historical markers of racism to facilitate understanding of their racial identity, act with intention, tell their stories, explore relational rupture, and learn strategies to support the Black and Brown IECMH professionals and families that they serve.

It was extremely important that the group experience provided a safe and accepting atmosphere to acknowledge and welcome the presence of the only African American man in the group. Due to the internalized racial trauma that Black men experience, it was critical that Dr. Hutchinson acknowledged his presence and recognized the importance of safety so that he could equally reflect and risk his vulnerabilities with a group of mostly White women.

Each group begins with 3 minutes of compassionate awareness mindfulness to help participants become fully grounded in their breath and to strengthen the sense of compassion that may arise when they hear stories of suffering from others. In addition, the meeting begins with a historical mini clip (Kendi, 2016) about Black history and race, to educate participants, before transitioning to an open discussion.

Amidst unprecedented confusion, uncertainty, and fear, associations for infant mental health offered places where the workforce could be seen, heard, and supported. Photo © ZERO TO THREE

As the group has progressed, participants have connected around their own suffering, as they’ve shared their struggles with the inequities they have witnessed and the harm that has resulted from racism. As the group continues to explore issues of privilege, whiteness, white supremacy, color blindness, and systemic racism, it is clear that each of the participants is exploring their own unique experiences and emotions. Dr. Hutchinson has listened to and acknowledged each participant’s journey, so that they, too, can feel brave enough to acknowledge their own path and use their authentic voice. As each participant shares, Dr. Hutchinson witnesses the pain of their desire to help but also their fear of causing more harm by saying the wrong thing. Many participants have spoken about their privilege and how it may have affected others. Jeree Pawl (1995) reminds us that one of “life’s greatest privileges is just the experience of being held in someone’s mind” (p. 5).

Dr. Hutchinson witnessed the resilience of group members as they strived toward being antiracist, felt the impact of their shared experiences, and acknowledged differences among them. It is powerful to note that recognizing and acknowledging those differences allowed the group to embrace their common connections as human beings and be brave enough to recognize and explore those differences as they entered into choppy waters, collaborating, honoring, and acknowledging each other when the emotions became too uncomfortable (Hook et al., 2016). This healing space has invited participants on a transformative journey that has asked them to be brave enough to risk their vulnerability and share their authentic voice, their efforts made possible because they know that they will be held in the mind of another.

Hope, Connection, and Relationship

The second reflective opportunity has been facilitated by Dr. José Silva, CEO of the Colorado Association for Infant Mental Health. Dr. Silva has met for 90 minutes every month with IECMH leaders who are in policy or program administration roles. Dr. Silva has crafted a space for hope, connection, and relationship in a time when all of that seems so distant. This gathering begins with a dialogue about how each person is doing, what support they need, and a focus on a particular topic. The conversations have primarily revolved around the racial reckoning taking place in the US, navigating nonprofit funding and growth in the times of COVID-19, nonprofit board development, and participants’ own families. The space has given way to powerful moments of crying together when people have seen their family members for the first time since the onset of the pandemic and when some participants revealed they were launching into their own diversity, equity, and inclusion journey. Many participants also shared their own stories of navigating mental wellness for themselves, staff, and families and leaning into best practices. Leaders often feel that they need to leave their own feelings at the door when in professional settings; knowing that, Dr. Silva has been intentional in conveying a reflective, vulnerable, and inspiring space where participants show up authentically to receive support.

As the reflective space continues into 2021, the culture of the group allows members to come with no expectations of themselves and arrive as who they are in their current place. Their connection to their work brought them together, but the connection of relationship is allowing them to create a web of support that removes the isolation of their geographical locations.

The Work of FAIMH

FAIMH responded to the pandemic with several online supports for Florida’s IECMH professionals. To respond to the stress of the uncertainty and fear around COVID-19, FAIMH offered immediate support. Drs. Hughes Pontier and Hutchinson offer acknowledgment and gratitude to FAIMH’s past board president, Dr. Neil Boris, and current president, Jackie Romillo, for their vision and leadership during this incredibly challenging time in history.

Mindfulness and Compassion Groups

Within days, FAIMH created two online groups to allow for reflection, sharing, and practice of mindfulness strategies. First, FAIMH launched a Mindfulness and Compassion Practice group. This group, led by Dr. Christine Hughes Pontier, a trained teacher of mindful self-compassion, was a 1-hour opportunity for professionals to experience these practices to support their health. The practices have been found to enhance well-being, and significantly reduce secondary traumatic stress and burnout of those working in health care or human services, and FAIMH leadership knew this was the type of support their membership would need (Neff, 2013). Each hour offered 2–3 practices of breath awareness, each cultivating a sense of compassion and kindness for themselves and others. After each practice, participants shared their struggle to stay connected to the sensations of the breath in their body, their realization of how they held tensions in certain parts of the body, and their discoveries about how much stress was impacting their physical health.

Participants practiced lovingkindness meditation (Zeng et al., 2015) which Dr. Hughes Poniter adapted to include all those who were suffering—from disease (including COVID- 19), loneliness, hatred, violence, or fear—and the group shared that those practices were beautiful and deep because they cultivated a sense of agency within themselves (in the middle of being at home, feeling helpless and uncertain of the future) and offered something positive in response to the world’s pain. Participants practiced giving and receiving compassion using the breath, an experience that participants found to be particularly profound in June 2020, just after George Floyd’s murder. For example, a participant shared how disturbing and yet meaningful it was to her to rest her full awareness on her breath for several minutes during the practice, being acutely aware of the privilege she had in that moment: she had breath that Mr. Floyd no longer had, because of the violence against him.

Peer Group Support

FAIMH also launched an online peer support group led by Dr. Hughes Pontier, using the Group Peer Support (GPS) model (Cycon & Friedman, 2019). GPS is an accessible evidence-informed, trauma-responsive group model that draws on a variety of successful and evidence-based therapeutic and support group modalities including cognitive behavioral and interpersonal therapies, mindfulness-based stress reduction, motivational interviewing, and psycho-social education (Beck, 2011; Cuijpers et al., 2016; Engel, 1977; Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Rollnick & Miller, 1995). GPS is a strength-based group model informed by the knowledge that group support is an effective modality in overcoming barriers to care such as stigma, shame, and isolation. The group that FAIMH launched, GPS for Professionals, was specifically for those who were professional helpers, who were supporting others through this stressful time professionally, while also supporting their families as well as experiencing stress themselves. The GPS group creates a compassionate, nonjudgmental, welcoming space where participants state the hard truths of their reality and also what they believe about themselves and the world. Each person is given uninterrupted time to speak what is on their heart and mind, and Dr. Hughes Pontier saw that the way the time was used transformed as the weeks turned into months. FAIMH continues to offer GPS groups, and while the concerns at the beginning of the pandemic were more about uncertainty and dealing with the significant changes that shutdowns and social distancing brought, more recently, the impact of the stress is deeper, the exhaustion is more difficult to ignore, and there is more sadness and grief. But there is also hope, more recognition of the state of one’s own mental health, more intentional action to support one’s own resilience, and a deeper recognition that people can create their lives as they want them to be—even if things can’t be the same as they used to be.

Associations for infant mental health offer incredible connections for the IECMH-informed workforce, just as the workforce offers invaluable relationships to the babies and families they support. Photo © ZERO TO THREE

Black Community of Professional Helpers

Finally, FAIMH sprang to action again in June 2020, when the world witnessed the death of George Floyd. They launched a Black Community of Professional Helpers led by Dr. Harleen Hutchinson. Participants, representing Black and Brown IECMH professionals, came together monthly to work toward healing racial trauma and sharing their lived experiences and pain. Dr. Hutchinson took on the role of helping Black and Brown professionals speak the unspeakable and use compassionate awareness to understand themselves and connect as human souls, broken, fragile, and ruptured by a painful past that had been buried deep inside, one that has always existed in the US but is never fully acknowledged. Dr. Hutchinson has witnessed themes of separation, racial trauma, systemic racism, micro-aggression, and implicit bias emerge in this group. Collectively, before and after the start of each group, a mindfulness reclamation activity is integrated as a means of learning how to heal by using the breath, reclaiming what has been lost through a practice of contemplation, quieting, and being with the breath. The routines and rituals of using mindfulness to reclaim ones’ voice is impactful in a healing space in which participants feel brave enough to risk sharing their most vulnerable and deepest feelings surrounding their experiences (Hanley et al., 2015). This practice provides a safe space for Black and Brown professionals to bear witness to their own experiences of trauma.

The Work of the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health

The Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health (MI-AIMH) offered three opportunities in 2020 for groups to reflect on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the more recently illuminated racism pandemic.

The GPS group creates a compassionate, nonjudgmental, welcoming space where participants state the hard truths of their reality and also what they believe about themselves and the world. Photo: fizkes/shutterstock

Holding Spaces Groups

The first opportunity offered was in March 2020, as it became clear that infant and early childhood professionals in Michigan were deeply affected by the effects of both pandemics in their professional roles and their personal lives. MI-AIMH knew they needed to create opportunities for support, connection, and reflection among the IECMH workforce. As a first step, a pilot group of reflective supervisors/consultants convened to process what they were hearing and experiencing. Many of these reflective supervision and consultation providers then donated their time as facilitators of Holding Spaces groups for infant and early childhood professionals across Michigan at no cost, via distance technology. These 18 groups, 10 participants each, met consistently for 6 weeks. Participants worked in a diverse array of programs serving babies, young children, and caregiving adults. Throughout the project, participants expressed finding the groups very supportive as they shared their challenges in several areas: managing new work demands, work/home balance, grief and health issues, tolerating anguish, feeling unable to be helpful enough, and experiencing many of the same challenges as the families they serve.

Centering Equity Committee

In June 2020, MI-AIMH leadership gathered a group of diverse MI-AIMH board members and representatives to begin to have deeper conversations around race equity. MI-AIMH’s previous Diversity Committee supported a fellowship experience that was valuable. The focus of the current Centering Equity Committee has been to deepen and broaden equity work by engaging in critical reflection about MI-AIMH, and where the organization can grow related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This committee has continued to meet at least monthly to establish intent, confirm commitments to engage in antiracist policies and practices, and create subcommittees for intentional focused action. After the group foundational processes that were needed to support brave engagement were built, all MI-AIMH members were invited to join this ongoing committee.

Support for Home Visitors

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, the state of Michigan partnered with MI-AIMH to intentionally support infant and early childhood home visitors. State government leadership surveyed home visiting providers to determine what support would be most helpful and identified a need for supportive groups. Michigan State Departments of Education and Health and Human Services alongside other significant state nonprofit organizations, supplemented by federal PDG grant funds, collaborated to support group facilitators’ time, MI-AIMH staff administration, and a small pre–post evaluation. Invitations were widely distributed to professionals in prevention, intervention, and treatment home visitation programs across the state. This resulted in MI-AIMH delivering 23 reflective supportive groups for home visiting professionals, meeting twice monthly in cohorts of up to eight individuals for 6 months. Groups have been facilitated by MI-AIMH endorsed professionals beginning Fall 2020. To support the facilitators’ considering the impact of parallel process, MI-AIMH offered check-ins for them to reflect, gather feedback, and share some of their ideas and strategies. Facilitator Karol Wilson shared that she used a metaphor to help some members less familiar with using this type of experience to share their experiences in the group more authentically. She asked them each to start by sharing “a Rose”—something going well, being celebrated, “a Bud”—something they are growing, anticipating, creating, or watching, and “a Thorn”—a challenge, disappointment, or event accompanied by anger, sadness, or other hard emotion.

The Work of the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health

In the immediate wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health (WI-AIMH) recognized a need to create support and connection amidst an unprecedented time of isolation, uncertainty, fear, worry, and change.

“You Are Not Alone” Warmline

WI-AIMH sought to find innovative ways to support professionals and community members who were weathering the challenges of being at home or on the front lines, while also being cut off from many of the services and people they turn to in times of stress and need. WI-AIMH was especially concerned for Wisconsin’s babies and young families and the remarkable professionals who were facing the same uncertainty and resulting stressors while trying to be attuned and responsive to the growing needs of the children and families in their programs. WI-AIMH designed and operated its “You Are Not Alone” warmline between March–April 2020 with WI-AIMH staff and volunteers who had earned Infant Mental Health Endorsement. “You are not alone” was set as a 20-minute videochat scheduled as often as every half hour to provide an opportunity for an individual or small group to connect and reflect during the highly stressful initial weeks of COVID-19.

While these groups were not designed for reflective supervision, they were similar in the intent to create a safe and welcoming space to feel connected, cared for, and valued where participants could uplift strengths while partnering around vulnerabilities so that professionals might be more equipped to continue to do the same (Heffron & Murch, 2010). In this way, WI-AIMH sought to leverage the power of parallel process in hopes that a facilitator’s way of being with professionals would have a restorative effect with a positive influence on supporting the professionals’ way of being with others and the young children in their care. To increase accessibility, these calls were offered throughout the day from 5:00 am until 11:30 pm and at no expense to participants.

Many of the calls received were from frontline early childhood educators or home visiting staff who found a refuge in their connection to WI-AIMH facilitators who provided acknowledgment and appreciation at a time many felt unseen. One professional later shared with us,

Thank goodness for infant mental health. Child care was a vulnerable system prior to the pandemic. I was lucky I was connected to IMH, reflective supervision, and Endorsement®. You gave me strength, a support system, and recognized my value for caring for and educating our most vulnerable citizens, our infants, and very young children.

This reflection underpins that IECMH principles have uniquely equipped professionals to provide a fundamental cornerstone of well-being, that is, a relationship where “you truly are consistently in the mind of someone, so that you are noted, noticed, spoken to over distance, rescued, protected, appreciated, and tethered across space and out of mutual sight” (Pawl, 1995, p. 5).

Resources for Reopening and Addressing Racial Equity

WI-AIMH also created a resource of relationship-based practices to support babies and toddlers as they transition back to early childhood education settings, Tips for Supporting Infants & Young Children’s Transition as We Re-Open (WI-AIMH, 2020a, 2020b). This document was made available in both English and Spanish.

With the belief that infant mental health work is social justice work, WI-AIMH has additionally continued their efforts to respond to deeply rooted and historical inequities and racism exacerbated by COVID. By using their website and social media presence they have heightened their existing advocacy work by increasing access to professional development opportunities that address implicit bias, anti-racist practices, and cultivate the reflective capacities of professionals working with babies, young children, and their families. WI-AIMH continues to provide racial equity resources, books, and opportunities for deeper reflection in the form of facilitated book discussions intended to increase understanding of culturally responsive and antiracist practices while supporting reflective functioning.


The Alliance and its affiliate AIMHs attempted to create parallel process experiences unique to their resources and organizational cultures, but with the common goal of supporting infant, young child, and family professionals as they supported each other and the babies, young children, and families they serve during this uncertain time, modeling Jeree Pawl’s Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto others” (Pawl & St. John, 1998, p. 7).

Deborah Weatherston (2013) teaches that reflective practice in work with babies, young children, families, and the IECMH workforce can be boiled down to four little words: observe, listen, wonder, and respond. The Alliance, FAIMH, MI-AIMH, and WI-AIMH called upon their abilities to look at and observe what was being experienced within and around them as a result of the two pandemics that unfolded in 2020. As they listened carefully to the expressions shared of fear, isolation, overwhelm, worry, and feeling unseen that were communicated, they wondered with other colleagues promoting wellness and relational health for the workforce and the families they serve about how to support those holding so much. They each acted then to respond by pulling together an impressive outreach to the field with volunteers and/or paid staff, and partnering with funders when able, to offer creative solutions to lift each other up and provide reflective and supportive spaces for culturally responsive connections where hope could once again bloom.


Ashley McCormick, LMSW, IECMH-E®, Infant & Early Childhood Mental Health Mentor-Clinical, Endorsement, is endorsement and communications director for the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health. Ms. McCormick is dedicated to promoting workforce development standards for all professionals who work with infants, young children, and families through the promotion and use of the workforce development tools, the Competency Guidelines® and Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-Focused Practice Promoting Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health®. She is endorsed by the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health as an Infant & Early Childhood Mental Health Mentor and also provides reflective supervision/consultation to professionals in the infant-young child-family field. Ms. McCormick’s training includes a bachelor’s degree in psychology and child development from Central Michigan University and a master’s of social work from the University of Michigan.

Sheryl Goldberg, LMSW, ACSW, IMHM-E®, is executive director of the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health (MI-AIMH). In addition to serving in that role since 2016, Ms. Goldberg currently serves as a founding member of the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health and is in private practice providing reflective supervision/consultation for professionals in practice settings that serve very young children and their families, including several outside of Michigan. She has also provided direct services, administrative supervision, and training for more than 30 years to support competency in early childhood relationship-based work. Ms. Goldberg has been a project leader in the design, implementation, and evaluation of an advanced competency professional development model for infant mental health (IMH) practitioners, a foundational IMH core training series, as well as specialized reflective practice training curricula for IMH supervisors and is a co-author of Reflective Supervision Self-Efficacy (Assessment) Scales (Shea, Weatherston, Goldberg). Past president and long-time board member of MI-AIMH, she had significant responsibility for training in Michigan, and supported early associations of infant mental health that implemented MI-AIMH’s competency- based Endorsement process before the Alliance was formed. Ms. Goldberg’s training includes a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Michigan State University, a master’s of social work from Michigan State University, and a post-graduate certificate in infant mental health from Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute/Wayne State University.

Harleen Hutchinson, PsyD, IMHM-E®, is endorsed as an Infant Mental Health Mentor-Clinical and is a child psychologist and executive director of The Journey Institute, where she works with families of young children birth to 5 exposed to trauma. Dr. Hutchinson has broad experience administering and interpreting specialized assessment instruments used in the diagnosis of developmental, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disorders of young children. She also works collaboratively in a clinical and leadership role with the Broward County Early Childhood Court Team. Dr. Hutchinson is an adjunct professor with the Barry University School of Social Work, and currently serves as a board member with the Florida Association of Infant Mental Health, The United Way of Broward County, and the Broward Healthy Start Coalition. In addition, she conducts training locally and statewide on topics related to trauma and attachment in early childhood, and its implications on the parent–child relationships. Dr. Hutchinson provides consultation and reflective supervision to early childhood programs, community agencies, health care providers, and clinicians on issues relating to infant mental health, race, and equity.

Christine R. Hughes Pontier, PhD, IECMH-E®, CLC, LCCE, is communications and training coordinator at Florida Association for Infant Mental Health (FAIMH). Dr. Hughes Pontier’s professional experience began in early childhood classrooms as an assistant teacher each summer during high school and college. She earned her doctorate in applied developmental psychology from the University of Miami, where her research focused on the impact of early intervention for prenatally drug-exposed infants, and her early career focused on supporting early childhood education quality, managing one of the nation’s largest quality rating and improvement systems. Dr. Hughes Pontier served on the board of FAIMH from 2014–2019, and was among the first six professionals in Florida to earn the Endorsement for Culturally Relevant, Relationship- Focused Practice Promoting Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health® in 2018. As an Infant Mental Health Mentor (IV-Policy) and current FAIMH staff, she supports Florida’s infant and early childhood mental health workforce through member support and engagement, and building the organization’s Training Academy to support their professional development and well-being.

Ashley Bowers, MA, LMFT, IMH-E®, is infant mental health clinical coordinator at the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health (WI-AIMH). Ms. Bowers is a licensed marriage and family therapist who holds a master’s degree in counseling from Marquette University and post-graduate certificate in marriage and family therapy from the Family Therapy Training Institute. She has worked professionally with children and families for more than 12 years, initially as a parenting specialist during her graduate residency and subsequently as a credentialed marriage and family therapist. Ms. Bowers has a wealth of experience in nonprofit outpatient mental health as an administrator, post-graduate instructor, clinician, and mental health consultant to several Milwaukee-based prenatal and early childhood home visiting programs. She joined WI-AIMH in 2019 as the infant mental health clinical coordinator supporting Endorsement® coordination, training, and consultation for WI-AIMH’s Reflective Supervision Learning Collaborative as well as infant and early childhood mental health consultation through Behavior Help Wisconsin.

Lana Shklyar Nenide, MS, IMH-E®, is executive director at the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health (WI-AIMH); a statewide nonprofit agency charged with supporting social and emotional wellness of infants and young children in the context of their family, community, and culture. Ms. Nenide holds a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Wisconsin and is a graduate of the Napa Infant- Parent Mental Health Post Graduate Certificate Program, where she received specialized training in infant–parent mental health. She joined WI-AIMH in 2006 to oversee professional development efforts of the agency. Lana is a member of the Fussy Baby Network and provides training and consultation on the FAN framework. Ms. Nenide is a faculty at the Wisconsin Infant, Early Childhood, and Family Mental Health Capstone Certificate program and holds Infant Mental Health Endorsement. She is appointed to serve on the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council. Ms. Nenide is a ZERO TO THREE Academy fellow.

Rev. José Silva, EdD, has been an advocate for youth, education, and the community for over 28 years. In 2019, Dr. Silva became the first chief executive officer for the Colorado Association for Infant Mental Health. Prior to CoAIMH, Dr. Silva was founder/principal of Metrix Consulting— Political and Education Group; as a political and education consultant. Throughout his tenure, Dr. Silva has pursued policy and educational practices that would not only set higher standards for Denver’s minority populations but all residents of the Mile-High City. He accomplished this by increasing their capacity to be at the forefront of reform and success. A specialty of Dr. Silva’s professional and personal approach to community engagement is his orientation of multiculturalism—the embracing and celebrating of individual differences. One of Dr. Silva’s key strengths is demonstrated comprehension of complex factors when conceptualizing systems of domination and oppression and appropriately addressing these systems. Dr. Silva has the ability to recognize areas of privilege and domination when working with communities. This is what makes Dr. Silva a premier advocate and social justice ambassador for youth across the country. This lens separates Dr. Silva from others because of the diverse environments he has been successful in navigating. Whether it be in a room full of billionaires or in the Sun Valley Projects where Dr. Silva grew-up, his lens is always centered on how he can shift the paradigm for the youth he is serving. He holds a bachelor of science degree in organizational leadership from Colorado State University, a master’s of education from Concordia University in education and administrative leadership, and a doctorate in education in leadership for educational equity from the University of Colorado.

Suggested Citation

McCormick, A., Goldberg, S., Hutchinson, H., Hughes Pontier, C. R., Bowers, A., Nenide, L. S., & Silva, J. (2021). Holding the holders: Cultivating reflective spaces for the infant and early childhood mental health workforce during multiple pandemics. ZERO TO THREE Journal, 41(4), 50–57


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Zeng, X., Chiu, C. P. K., Wang, R., Oei, T. P. S., & Leung, F. Y. K. (2015). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: A meta-analytic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1693. link.

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