MERIDEN — A five-year-old program helps young children and their caregivers develop the skills needed to cope with trauma.
Child First was introduced to the greater Meriden region through the Child Guidance Center for Central Connecticut on Pratt Street after workers saw more young children in distress, said Karen Delane, the center’s program director.
“We reached out to Child First and the program was identified as a community need,” Delane said.
The Child Guidance staff saw more children struggling in pre-school, including discipline problems. The issues they were dealing with included domestic violence, substance abuse, physical abuse, and mental illness.
“The field in general has become much more aware of the impact of trauma and how significant that impact is on their development,’ said Leeora Netter, the center’s clinical director.
The program, designed for children from infancy to age six, is also helping young weather refugees from hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
All services are provided by a two-person team who work inside the home. A care coordinator identifies the family’s basic needs and potential stress points, including making utility payments, the need for food stamps, child care, job training, medical care. Providing solutions allows the family to focus on therapy, Netter said.
A clinician offers treatment to both caregiver and child.
““We’re helping the parents heal from their own trauma,” Netter said.
Referrals to Child First come from the state Department of Children and Families, community agencies, and the Birth to Three program. Some clients come directly to the center for help.
There are 11 Child First centers in the state. Funding comes from the U.S. Office of Early Childhood and state grants. Families typically receive services for one year.
Children may need follow up therapy as they age, but studies have shown that the earlier a child gets treatment, the greater the impact on the children.
“They have the skills to manage it better than they had before,” she said. “We encourage people to make the call. It’s better to err on the side of caution.”
Clinicians have found that children who complete the program are more comfortable talking about issues such as depression, anxiety, and suicide. In young adults, social media and bullying can contribute to those feelings and world events are creating more stress, said executive director Jim Maffuid.