As many of us did this past year, Educare Los Angeles at Long Beach returned to providing in-person learning last Fall. It was a big shift for those who were engaging in online learning and at home activities. While families were nervous to come back, many children were overjoyed to see their teachers again in person and to be with their friends. Teachers prepared their classrooms to be as safe and hygienic as possible with big smiles even a face mask couldn’t hide.

Starting in the Fall of 2021, I was introduced as the new mental health consultant at Educare. As Priscilla said good bye to the relationships she built, her legacy and the importance of the Mental Health Consultant lived on. Because of the foundation she created, I was able to jump right into building rapport with teachers, staff, and children. Staff approached me with their concerns about children’s disruptive behaviors and engaged in conversation about trauma informed care.

Luckily, this year, thanks to a grant awarded by The Miller Foundation, The Guidance Center was able to acquire a second, part-time Mental Health Consultant, Safiya Tormo, for Educare. Not only has the addition of Safiya allowed us to offer more therapeutic services for children on site, but it also has enabled us to provide additional presentations for the teachers and parents. One area in which Safiya has been helpful is in response to the crises and behavioral management challenges in the classrooms. This year at Educare, we experienced one of the hardest online to in-person school transitions as evidenced by children’s disruptive behaviors and dysregulation. I believe, and I think many would agree, that the pandemic disrupted routines, socialization, and socio-emotional skills on top of the high anxiety and trauma children and families have experienced. During the year, Safiya and I collaborated with teachers and staff to address disruptive behaviors, facilitate regulatory activities, and provide linkages and resources to families. Additionally, we offered opportunities for self-care and consultations with staff due to the burnout they experienced in balancing children’s regulation, safety, and classroom management, on top of their own stressors and worries.

Anecdotally, this year has seen some of the highest number of children referred to be assessed for special education eligibility and mental health services

With each passing day, I am impressed by the resilience of not only the children but also the teachers, supervisors, and staff here at Educare. Their hope and optimism allows for Educare to shine bright. Though there are still difficult days, I can see improvement in the children’s regulation and how they communicate their feelings. Safiya and I along with Educare staff continue to support the students, infants, toddlers, preschool age, and those about to enter kindergarten, by intervening early and meeting their needs before they become more serious concerns. The Educare team has worked diligently in engaging parents to share the importance of early intervention and the parent-child relationship.

As we reflect upon this school year, I look to the future. I cannot wait to offer additional trainings that continue to examine trauma-informed care in the school setting but also aid in teachers’ regulation and self-care. By sharing these resources and tools, they will feel empowered to continue providing the best care and education they can. I am excited to continue engaging the parents in coffee talks, presentations, and groups that support reflective parenting skills.

We know how important it is to intervene early and hear the struggles and barriers that families face when accessing care. I am proud that the relationship between The Guidance Center and Educare continues to grow because it takes a village to raise a child.

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.

Sarah Duncan, LMFT, is a Clinical Therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about deepening relationships with young children and their parents through art and play to promote secure attachments and foster healthy expression. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2019, Duncan worked with 0-5 year-olds and parents as an MFT Trainee. Duncan earned a Master’s Degree in Marital and Family Therapy with a Specialization in Clinical Art Therapy at Loyola Marymount University