The Douglas County Infant Mental Health Project
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A PLACE-BASED PROFESSIONAL COHORT MODEl
A listening project by The Ford Family Foundation in 2017 identified a need for coordinated services in the infant mental health community in Douglas County. Feedback from community members revealed that there were services, but not enough of them; there was a workforce supporting families, but they needed more education and information; and that there were relationships across family-serving agencies, but they were limited. A thoughtful multifaceted strategy was needed.
The goal of this project was to connect and strengthen the support systems for young children and their families in a place-based manner that reflected the particular needs of Douglas County. A 12-member professional development cohort, supported by a four-person mentor team, came together across a variety of agencies for education, reflective supervision and networking opportunities.
The results have been far-reaching and are continuing independent of the project today. The relationships that were carefully created and nurtured within our collaborative model are now creating a strengthened foundation of collaborative work throughout our rural community. Our cohort members are serving as advocates and leaders in the larger infant mental health community.
Lessons learned include:
- Relational work is important in rural communities. Building relationships need to take place over time, both as a primary and ongoing focus of the rural infant mental health work.
- Both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary practices need to be developed. Working towards a multidisciplinary coordinated system of care for diverse rural communities required mapping of individual and organizational connections. Activities reveal both strengths of connections and silos of organizational information or bias based on narratives of competing resources.
- Strong place-based work acknowledges the complex relationships in rural communities. Projects need both leadership in the community and external supports to address issues of transparency between agencies to mitigate issues of perceived organizational power or preference.
- Sustained and transparent coordination is required for systems change. A project needs to develop a unified understanding of the group’s goals. It is important to slow down to allow the process to unfold. Historic beliefs about individuals and communities require time to re-orient to build trust and new understandings.
We are sharing our story with you in the hopes that it may help in your efforts to serve children and families in the critical area of infant mental health. We hope you are inspired to create your own story.