The Kedzie Center is the first community-funded mental health center in Chicago, serving residents regardless of their ability to pay. It’s mission is to provide accessible, culturally informed, quality mental health care to North River residents through the integration of clinical practice, education and evaluation, and the application of psychological insight to address community issues, as informed by the community and in collaboration with local residents and partners.
Little Explorers is a parent-child therapeutic playgroup for caregivers and their infants and toddlers aged 0-5. It is a prevention/early intervention program designed to enhance family protective factors, such as parental resilience, social connections, parenting and child development knowledge, social emotional skills, and concrete supports in times of need (Center for Study of Social Policy, 2006). The significant trauma experienced by the high number of immigrant and refugee families with young children in our program area make our participants vulnerable to caregiver depression, parental separation, domestic violence, and abuse or neglect – all significant adverse childhood experiences leading to negative outcomes (Anda et al., 2006). Such trauma can become intergenerational, impacting subsequent generations. This group provides an opportunity to identify needs early and those families who may need further services.
The program runs for 8-10 week cycles and has two primary aims. First, it provides parents with a structured and responsive environment, as well as in vivo modeling, in which to promote their child’s social and emotional development. This serves to strengthen attachment by increasing emotional attunement, communication, and responsiveness between parents and children. Staff observe parent-child interactions and offer guidance on supporting the child’s growth in all developmental domains: language, social, emotional, motor, and cognitive. Second, it supports the caregiver’s emotional well-being by establishing a space where parents can discuss their concerns, build social connections with other parents, and learn about community resources, including mental health services. After the final session, parents receive an individual consultation, including recommendations, about their child’s development and any identified concerns and needs of the parent. Many participants are linked with individual, group or family therapy at the Kedzie Center or receive referrals to the Illinois Early Intervention Program or other community resources.
During 2018-19, the Washington Square Health Foundation supported six cycles of Little Explorers: one with Rohingya refugees, two offered at public elementary schools, two at community sites and one at the Albany Park Library.
For example, the first cycle engaged six Rohingya families in 8 weekly sessions and a consultation appointment. Six mothers and their nine young children ranging from 7 months to 3 years and 10 months participated. Given the level of trauma of the mothers, the medical/developmental issues of the children, and the need for Rohingya verbal translation, it was deemed that it would be most beneficial for the group to remain small. It is anticipated that these women will share their learning with other women in the Rohingya community. Since 2010, 1500 Rohingya refugees have settled in Chicago. In all parent-child dyads, the child/children demonstrated increased initiative, involvement with their parent (and other moms), expression of feelings to parent, and communication with parent. All parents, including one with high exposure to trauma, demonstrated an increased response to their child’s needs and interests, increased caring feelings shown to their child, and increased support to their child in learning new skills. There was a high degree of communal caregiving observed, such that fostering a supportive social network for participants resulted in greater empathy and shared responsibility for the children and for one another. Parents demonstrated a stronger sense of belonging and support and were able to share their concerns about their children. All families who were identified as needing additional services received appropriate referrals.
This past year, 50 percent of the participants engaged in consultation, referrals or therapeutic services; of those, 80 percent have remained engaged in services. This work could not have been expanded to so many groups in our community without the support of the Washington Square Health Foundation.