On June 3rd, United Way of the Columbia-Willamette’s Early Learning Washington County hub co-sponsored the 2023 Washington County Early Childhood Mental Health Summit along with Community Action’s Child Care Resource and Referral team. This event offered a wide variety of educational seminars in both Spanish and English, bringing together experts, educators and providers for a day of children and youth-focused learning. Attendees speaking Arabic, Somali, Russian, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese were offered interpretation services to ensure widespread adoption and understanding of vital techniques that educators can employ in their classrooms. Beyond the direct benefits of continued education in the mental health space, attendees were able to network with other educators and learn more about resources offered by our partner agencies, public libraries, LifeWorks NW, Trauma Informed Oregon, Child Care Substitute of Oregon, Dougy Center and others.

“The summit helped me recognize that both in the work area and in the personal area, it is important to maintain a balance in each of the aspects that make up my life to feel good, first with myself and later to have tools and help transmit that well-being to others or to those around me,” said Glenda Gonzalez, an attendee and educator. “In my daily work as an educator of young children and as a mother, I am a guide and a role model for them and that means being positive and open to praise any achievement within their learning and daily experiences within the school environment despite any challenges they may be presenting at the family level.”

La cumbre sobre salud mental me ayudó a reconocer que tanto en el área laboral como en el área personal es importante mantener un equilibrio en cada uno de los aspectos que conforman mi vida para sentirme bien, primeramente conmigo misma y posteriormente para tener herramientas y ayudar a transmitir ese bienestar hacia los demás o hacia quienes me rodean. En mi trabajo diario como educadora de niños pequeños y como madre, soy una guía y un modelo para ellos y eso significa mostrarme positiva y abierta para elogiar cualquier logro dentro de su aprendizaje y experiencias cotidianas dentro del ambiente escolar a pesar de cualquier desafío que puedan estar presentando en el plano familiar. (Glenda Gonzalez, participante y educadora)

Early Learning Washington County team's focus on mental health is aligned with United Way’s mission of building strong families, supportive communities and effective early education and care. These tenets build into a thriving community that supports children to become successful students and life-long learners. This encourages deeper family engagement and stronger, more effective schools that can provide better mental health outcomes to ensure youth success. By focusing on the educator, the Washington County Mental Health Summit can have wide-reaching impacts that grow from every attendee into their classrooms and beyond.

“It is a great opportunity to convene community partners and to blend resources to have a space for early childhood educators (ECE) to advance their knowledge about mental and behavioral health and trauma as well as creating a space for conversations and networking. Even prior to COVID-19, research documented that early childhood educators experienced high levels of depression, stress, and lack of awareness of resources and/or access to mental health trainings to support their work. During and after COVID-19 the situation exacerbated but also early childhood educators reported that the metal health of young children under their care was also severely impacted. Early childhood educators feel that they need more support in this area but also the Early Learning Washington County team's Parent Advisory Council strongly recommended to launch the first Washington County Early Childhood Mental Health Summit.” said Begona Rodriguez, Director of Early Learning Washington County.

“This is a topic that many early learning professionals are hungry for. We had a great deal of positive responses from child care providers who attended that requested we offer these training topics on a rotating basis so they can increase their knowledge and access to resources for themselves and the families they serve,” said Stephanie Davison, Systems Coordinator at Community Action, Washington County. “We also received very positive feedback about the organization of the event, the materials that we provided and that the day was at no cost to them. Running a home child care business can be isolating and it was heartwarming to see many people forming new connections and reconnecting with others in their field.”

Our team and our partners know that this is vital work to creating a more secure, inclusive, and effective education ecosystem in Washington County. But don’t take our word for it alone! Read through some of the other responses below from Glenda Gonzalez:

“Children in the classroom present insecurities, fears, challenging behaviors, and communication problems, just to name some of the consequences or manifestations of not going through an optimal moment in their mental health. My work translates into responding positively to children in any situation and helping them in all areas of their integral development with the support of the family, always understanding the environment within the nucleus of the family, based on direct and positive communication, transmitting confidence and resources that can contribute to improving the conditions of the child and their parents.”

Los niños en el aula presentan inseguridades, miedos, comportamientos desafiantes y problemas de comunicación, por solo nombrar algunas de las consecuencias o manifestaciones de no estar pasando por un momento óptimo en su salud mental. Mi labor se traduce en responder positivamente a los niños ante cualquier situación y ayudarlos en todas las áreas de su desarrollo integral con el apoyo de la familia, siempre comprendiendo el entorno dentro del núcleo de la familia, basada en una comunicación directa y positiva, transmitiéndoles confianza y recursos que puedan contribuir a mejorar las condiciones del niño y sus padres.

“The summit provided many strategies to promote mental health in myself because the connection with one's own well-being is important and then to transmit it to the children, since this can have a positive or negative impact on them. Practicing breathing exercises with the children every day helps me to connect with them and to relax, dancing with them fills us both with energy, praising them helps us stay positive and encouraged to carry out the activities, establish routines, practice reading, provide Healthy eating and helping them recognize their feelings to regulate themselves are some of the strategies that help both the children and me.”

La cumbre brindó muchas estrategias para fomentar la salud mental en mí misma porque es importante la conexión con el bienestar propio y luego transmitirlo a los niños, ya que esto puede impactar de manera positiva o negativa en ellos. Practicar ejercicios de respiración con los niños cada día me ayuda a conectarme con ellos y a relajarnos, bailar con ellos nos llena de energía a ambos, elogiarlos nos ayuda a mantenernos positivos y con ánimo para realizar las actividades, establecer rutinas, practicar la lectura, proporcionar alimentación saludable y ayudarlos a reconocer sus sentimientos para regularse, son algunas de las estrategias que nos ayudan tanto a los niños como a mí.

“I had the opportunity to interact with several educators at my work table and we agreed on the need to establish comprehensive well-being in order to subsequently have an assertive response capacity towards children, making it clear that this well-being was undoubtedly hit by a pandemic that left sequels to every human being in all aspects that make up personal, professional, economic, social, emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological life and that inevitably children also absorbed and manifested in various ways affecting their mental health”

Tuve la oportunidad de interactuar con varios educadores en mi mesa de trabajo y coincidimos en la necesidad de establecer un bienestar integral para posteriormente tener una capacidad de respuesta asertiva hacia los niños, dejando claro, que sin duda, ese bienestar fue golpeado por una pandemia que dejó secuelas a cada ser humano en todos los aspectos que conforman la vida personal, profesional, económica, social, emocional, física, espiritual y psicológica y que inevitablemente los niños también absorbieron y manifiestan de maneras diversas afectando su salud mental.