In recent interviews with two Infant Toddler Mental Health Consultants, we delved into the world of children’s mental health and gained valuable insights into the impact of this intervention on infants, toddlers, and their caregivers. Infant Toddler Mental Health Consultation (ITMHC) focuses on nurturing young children’s social and emotional well-being by providing support to adult caregivers. Let’s learn more about the experiences and perspectives of Shelia Tumiel and Susannah Burgess as they shed light on the nature and significance of ITMHC.
Shelia Tumiel, the ITMHC Regional Coordinator at Child Care Resource Network in Buffalo, NY, brings three decades of experience working with children and families. Prior to her current role, Shelia was a child care provider, owned and operated a program, and worked as a registrar for child care programs. In her current capacity, she oversees and supports other consultants in her region while maintaining her own caseload. Susannah Burgess, the ITMH Consultant at Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country, has dedicated two years to this role. Before joining ITMHC, Susannah took a break from her career to homeschool her two children. She sees early education as a platform for creativity, curiosity, and building relationships.
About Infant Toddler Mental Health Consultation (ITMHC)
We first asked the consultants how they would describe ITMHC. Susannah explained that how she describes ITMHC depends on the specific needs of the provider seeking consultation. She typically presents it as a support system for providers, emphasizing that assessments are merely tools for measuring growth. Sheila acknowledged the initial challenge in explaining infant toddler consultation. She seeks to ensure providers understand that this service offers support for both them and the children. She also highlights the expertise of providers in the classroom while underscoring that this service simply aims to help them be in a better mental state to provide optimal care.
Each day does not look the same for every consultant. Sheila finds satisfaction in the diversity of her daily routine. Her tasks range from spending an entire day in a program, supporting providers in their classrooms, to accommodating family providers by working later hours. She also holds monthly meetings with the consultants in her region. Susannah’s day typically involves significant travel due to the vast area she covers in the north country. Once at a program, she delves straight into the work requested by the providers. Susannah ensures she brings valuable resources and, at times, dedicates the whole day to the program, engaging in debriefing sessions if time allows.
Both of the consultants took great pride in their work and their accomplishments. For Sheila, every aspect of her job is fulfilling. Having worked in a child care program, she can empathize with the challenges faced by providers. She also values the strong bond among consultants, who provide a wealth of resources to support one another. Susannah finds excitement in a variety of her work as well, particularly the opportunity for continuous learning and reflective supervision. She derives immense satisfaction from helping teachers recognize the importance of their roles and supporting them in overcoming burnout, ultimately allowing them to focus on the children’s social-emotional development.
The consultants also shared important insights based on what they have learned in this role. Susannah emphasizes the benefits of collaborating with colleagues and Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) organizations, highlighting how such partnerships can support early educators. Sheila advises providers to prioritize self-care by emphasizing the importance of slowing down. Acknowledging the constant demands of child care work, she recommends taking moments to recalibrate, revisit lesson plans, and foster a calm classroom environment.
Supporting Infant and Toddler Mental Health
Sheila recommends several books, including “Activities for Responsive Caregiving: Infants, Toddlers, and Twos” by Jean Barbre and two publications from Georgetown: “Social Emotional Tips for Providers Caring for Infants” and “Taking Care of Ourselves.” Susannah suggests reading “What Happened to You” by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey as a valuable resource and has recently provided consultants with two texts, From Biting to Hugging: Understanding Social Development in Infants and Toddlers and Trauma Sensitive Care for Infants, Toddlers and Two-Year Olds, which have excellent information for early educators. Another resource Susannah shared was a tool from Simple Interactions that illustrates what it looks like to develop interactions of connection, reciprocity, inclusion, and opportunity to grow.
Sheila believes that the best way to advocate for children’s mental health is to continue the work of ITMHC, breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health and raising awareness of its importance for infants and toddlers. Susannah believes that offering better compensation, breaks, and healthcare for teachers, on par with K-12 education, would significantly improve their mental health, subsequently benefiting the social-emotional development of the children.
Through our interviews with Susannah and Sheila we gained valuable insights into the transformative power of Infant Toddler Mental Health Consultation. These dedicated consultants work to support the social and emotional well-being of young children by prioritizing the mental health of both the providers and those in their care. Their experiences underscore the importance of ongoing support, resources, and advocacy to create nurturing environments for mental health development across the early education field.