Local Foundations Band Together to Expand Childhood Mental Health Workforce
Philanthropic investments double the number of community-based infant and early childhood mental health fellowsCU Office of Advancement Sep 12, 2019
Five Colorado-based philanthropic funders came together in a tremendous effort to address the state’s workforce shortage related to infant and early childhood mental health. Their collective investments will double the number of community-based infant and early childhood mental health professionals, through training by the Irving Harris Program in Child Development and Infant Mental Health in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
Caring for Colorado, Community First Foundation, The Piton Foundation at Gary Community Investments, the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation and ZOMA Foundation assembled in 2018, to build momentum towards expanding the Irving Harris Program. They brought together diverse perspectives to foster collaboration, challenge conventional thinking and spur innovation in infant and early childhood mental health.
“That kind of collective effort is necessary in order to replicate and scale the best solutions, like the Irving Harris Program,” said Rebecca Alderfer, a senior program consultant at ZOMA Foundation. “This opportunity shows how shared objectives can leverage resources to make a bigger impact.”
Lisa Montagu, investment director at Gary Community Investments, said, “We are energized when philanthropy aligns to help launch strategic projects such as this one.”
The funders gathered with a singular focus on improving infant and early childhood mental health. This effort involves removing barriers to care by integrating mental health into the communities where families live and work.
“We strive to create a network of care and support that meets moms, babies and families where they are,” said Noah Atencio, vice president of community impact at Community First Foundation. “We also aim to deepen knowledge and transform the way mothers’ and children’s mental health are cared for throughout pregnancy and postpartum.”
The Irving Harris Program is led by Director Karen Frankel, PhD, and Co-Director Ayelet Talmi, PhD. They said, “We are enormously grateful for the collaborative effort and spirit the foundations in the community have brought to addressing the infant and early childhood mental health workforce shortage. Their creativity, courage and commitment are exceptional.”
Over 30 years ago, the concept for infant and early childhood mental health training flourished from a friendship between Robert J. Harmon, MD, a child psychiatrist in the CU Department of Psychiatry, and Irving Harris, retired businessman and founder of the Irving Harris Foundation. Dr. Harmon and Mr. Harris were board members of ZERO TO THREE, a national organization that pioneered the field of infant and early childhood mental health.
Both men shared a passion for young children and their developmental needs. Years after their meeting, Harris asked Harmon about creating an infant mental health program in Colorado. This conversation led to the establishment of the Irving Harris Program in Child Development and Infant Mental Health in 1996.
The program trains postdoctoral psychology fellows and community professionals with advanced clinical skills in infant and early childhood mental health. Clinical settings include traditional outpatient services, pediatric primary care centers and other medical clinics, early care and education centers, and home-based services.
“Through our work across the state, we regularly interact with Harris trained mental health clinicians who are advocates, experts, leaders and change makers,” said Colleen Church, vice president of programs at Caring for Colorado. “By investing in fellows across the state, who are deeply embedded in their communities, we can support the health and well-being of Colorado’s youngest children and their caregivers.”
Shaleah Dardar, MD, is one of the more than 90 postdoctoral fellows and community fellows who have completed training through the Irving Harris Program. She currently serves as an assistant professor in the CU Department of Psychiatry.
Dr. Dardar said, “I learned that being an Irving Harris Fellow was more than just training. It meant having colleagues who are leaders in the field, working collaboratively with families to promote healthy relationships and well-being in young children, and pushing the field continuously through scholarship and advocacy.”
Philanthropic support from the funders will ensure that more infant and early childhood mental health professionals positively impact the lives of young children, their families and caretakers. Their investment in fellows is a commitment to promoting healthy beginnings for some of our youngest minds.