Coming Full Circle in My Journey to Empower Vulnerable Families
by Aidan Bohlander, Senior Outreach Specialist, National Infant-Toddler Court Program
When I think back to the sunny spring morning of the Michigan Infant Mental Health Conference in Ann Arbor, MI, more than a dozen years ago, I feel a flood of gratitude for a tipping point in my fledgling career. At the time, I was cautiously hopeful. Leaving work in Washington, DC, that week, I felt inadequate, incompetent, and unhelpful. I was working in an Independent Living Program for teen mothers in foster care. My caseload was close to 30 young moms and their children who lived in apartments scattered across the city. I was charged with helping them live “independently” with one home visit a month and one group meeting a month. In hindsight, it was an impossible situation for everyone. At the time, my lack of wisdom as a practitioner left me feeling that if I just worked harder each mother and baby could thrive.
At the conference, I settled in to hear Dr. Bruce Perry speak about the science of early childhood development and trauma. I had read his publications, but seeing him speak and dialogue with other, more experienced clinicians, I began to understand what had been missing. My clients needed secure bases so that they could parent their children in nurturing, responsive ways. One home visit a month was not going to repair years of broken relationships and trust. I went home equipped to spread the word, motivated to seek practice and systems change.
Fast forward to today, where I am privileged to be the new senior outreach specialist for the National Infant-Toddler Court Program at ZERO TO THREE where we promote the Safe Babies Court Team approach. This approach is specifically designed to support and empower parents as they address their own traumas and subsequent coping mechanisms so that they can provide safe, stable, nurturing relationships to their babies and toddlers. I get to talk to professionals in communities all over the country every day who are actively trying to bring the science of early childhood development into their practices. I know that our Court Teams are out there creating safe and secure bases for families, interrupting the intergenerational transmission of trauma, and making sure babies have stable, nurturing relationships.
As part of my role, I also get to lead the organization of our annual Cross Sites meeting, where we bring together stakeholders from all over the country to network with each other and hear about the latest developments in practice and systems change from experts in the field. My goal is that the Cross Sites meeting is the tipping point for another professional so that they can do this work more effectively to benefit babies, toddlers, and their families. I am profoundly grateful to have come full circle.