Three years ago, The Guidance Center and Educare of Los Angeles at Long Beach Unified School District partnered together to have a Mental Health Clinician and Consultant on-site to address and assess the needs of children and families that were at risk for mental health concerns. They would also provide further assessments from the school district for special educational services to those in need.

As we close out the school year for 2021, and as I reflect on where we started three years ago, I would have never been able to imagine what our program and collaboration would be like today.  Three years ago, we weren’t exactly sure of what we were building and what this position entailed, because no one had held this position before.  When we started, we had big plans and big dreams for what this collaboration could be, and immediately we saw the high need and demand in the classrooms and in the community.

In 2018, along with my colleagues Nathan Swaringen, It’s About T.I.M.E Trauma-Informed Consultant and Erin Yip, Doctoral Psychology Intern, we hit the ground running.  We stepped into classrooms to observe, assist and provide feedback.  I was assigned to reach out to families of children that were being identified with unsafe or alarming behaviors (i.e. hitting their peers/teachers, frequent tantrums, delayed development).  I began to build rapport with staff and parents so that I could begin discussions about mental health and developmental delays.  Not all encounters went as smoothly as planned or imagined.  Some discussions were harder to have than others, and then I realized that my rapport-building with teachers and parents was just beginning.  When addressing the mental health needs of a preschooler or bringing up a discussion about a possible developmental delay of a child, it is an incredibly sensitive and guarded topic for some caregivers.  It is hard enough for adults to admit there may be some struggles and hardships that we need some support with acknowledging that the stressors of the home may be impacting a 2 or 3-year-old is far more challenging to discuss.

To strengthen the relationships and rapport I was building at the school site, I decided to start Parent Coffee Talks, a space for parents to get to know me, interact with other parents, and learn more about child development, parent-child relationship building, and parent stressors.  I also invested time in getting to know the staff more by providing self-care activities and workshops.  I did more one-on-one check-ins with teachers and staff, and slowly but surely relationships began to form.

I quickly learned as Theodore Roosevelt is so famously quoted, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  I believe I have some knowledge in the field of early childhood mental health, but more importantly, I deeply care about the well-being of children and families in underserved communities.  Not only because I can identify with the community because of my background and heritage, but also because I have seen the incredible outcomes of early intervention and the trajectory of change when children, families and communities are given the opportunity to tap into their healing and to flourish in their many given gifts and talents.

After three years at Educare and a pandemic in the midst of it, I deeply hope that the number one intervention that has “stuck” the most is the intervention of safe relationship building! Through relationships with parents and staff, I was able to have some impactful conversations, provide mental health services to children and families in need, host parenting groups that facilitated open and honest dialogues about the struggles and triumphs of parenting, and was able to provide a safe place for staff members to also discuss their need for self-care so that they can be present for their students.

Three years later, I think it is safe to say, the relationship between The Guidance Center and Educare has become stronger, and together we are impacting positive change in the lives of children and families in need of extra support especially during a time like today.

Educare is a national early education public-private partnership between organizations committed to ensuring all children receive high-quality care and education from the moment they are born to the day they enter kindergarten. The partnership between Educare and The Guidance Center is made possible by funding from First 5 LA.

Priscilla Gomez, LCSW is The Guidance Center’s Early Childhood and Trauma Care Clinician at Educare Los Angeles at Long Beach, where she provides outreach and education to parents reluctant to engage with teachers or mental health providers, direct mental health treatment to families and It’s About T.I.M.E. to support teachers and staff. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2016, Gomez worked closely with children, teens and parents, providing individual and family therapy in a variety of settings. She has also been a family advocate, and run parent educational classes on the importance of age appropriate behaviors, how to develop healthy communication and how to create safe spaces to foster healthy and hopeful family well-being. Gomez earned a Masters of Social Work degree in Community Mental Health at California State University, Fullerton and a Bachelors of Art in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.