I wrestled with this exact question in the weeks leading up to the congress for three extremely good reasons.
First, the congress started two days after the Help Me Grow National Forum! Going from one to the other would be like organizing a wedding, running a marathon, then attending a state dinner. Too much! Second, the Congress was in Prague, Czech Republic. The cost to participate and present wasn’t small.
But the number one reason that the World Infant Mental Health Congress didn’t make sense was more basic. As in, what does infant mental health have to do with Help Me Grow?
The theme of this year’s Congress was Infant Mental Health in a rapidly changing world: Conflict adversity, and resilience. At first glance, this theme doesn’t speak to the vision of Help Me Grow. I am skilled at making a causal argument on how most, if not all, things fall under the purview of Help Me Grow, but even to me, this trip to Prague seemed slightly irrational and almost selfish.
I questioned whether I was holding onto my previous professional self (managing direct services for families with very young children in a behavioral health organization) or looking to this congress as another career transition activity. Was this venue mostly an opportunity to share my excitement for my new leadership role with my peers and get some validation for my decision to leave leading a direct service organization?
On top of all of these personal questions regarding relevance, Erin Cornell, a National Center staffer, was attending this Congress with me. It was my PROFESSIONAL DUTY to make the logical connection between Help Me Grow and the Infant Mental Health field AND to do so before we landed in Prague!
Throughout the 2016 Forum, I jotted down comments from affiliates and colleagues that struck me as moving and significant. You can imagine how full my notebook was by the end of the two and half days! My scribbles weren’t orderly or especially legible, but as I reviewed them on the plane to the Congress I was struck with the profound collection of values they held.
“social determinants contribute to 80% of our health outcomes”
“a community that knows that getting it right in the beginning of life leads to much more going right later on — this is Help Me Grow”
“screening children is only one piece of the system”
“collective impact demands an all sectors in approach”
“promotion of the protective factors in our community will enhance families capacity to buffer against the hard stuff — and we all will encounter the hard stuff”
“respect the perspective of others”
“systems theory informs us that a system can only be as strong as each of its components”
“aspire to inspire”
The quotes showed me why Help Me Grow was attending the 2016 WAIMH Congress. It is because Help Me Grow values the core tenets of the infant mental health field:
- Early childhood development
- Strengthening parent/caregivers ability to respond in times of stress
- Integrating promotion and prevention into interventions
- Change is inevitable, and with the vast amount we now know about human development, we must lead the ways in which we integrate research, experience and evaluation to inform change
- The emotional health and well-being of our youngest children is everyone’s concern
As we landed in Prague, excited and anxious and exhausted, I shared my thoughts with Erin. We both homed in on one quote — “a community that knows that getting it right in the beginning of life leads to much more going right later on.” This was why Help Me Grow was in Prague. More than anything else, this quote embodied the very heart of the World Infant Mental Health Congress.
We are so fortunate to have represented the HMG affiliate network at this congress. We are thrilled to support this international community of change. Our presentation of Help Me Grow’s innovation work and system building efforts will, we hope, inspire others to think of their work in a different and new way.
As another Help Me Grow affiliate said at the Forum, “collective impact demands an ALL SECTORS IN approach.” Whether in South Carolina or Prague or Hartford or who knows where next to further early childhood systems building, Help Me Grow is absolutely ALL IN.