This month’s post is written by Jenna Kelly, Associate Director of Caregiver Connections. When she’s not busy with all the work things, Jenna’s other hobbies and passions are about health, wellness, travel, nature and yoga. Jenna is also a mom to one son and two doggies. Jenna says her husband keeps her laughing all the time and reminds her not to take life so seriously.

It’s hard to believe that I have been at Chaddock now for almost 6 years and with Caregiver Connections for 17 years! Little did I know when I stumbled upon the field of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health all those years ago that I would become so deeply aligned with it. In hindsight, it all made sense (you know what they say about hindsight and the whole 20/20 thing).

I was working as a therapist with children and adolescents when the opportunity to work as an early childhood mental health consultant within Caregiver Connections was presented to me. Some of you hopefully remember when John Roope was the Director of Caregiver Connections at Chaddock. He came to meet me in Southern IL and told me all about Caregiver Connections. I am not sure if I was sold on the program or on him, maybe it was a little bit of both. His way of helping people feel seen and heard was my first taste of what infant mental health was all about. So, I took the leap into the Caregiver Connections program and started working as a Mental Health Consultant. Shortly after this, I got to see Michael Trout speak at a conference along with others in the field and I started receiving good reflective supervision for the work that I was doing. I was like a sponge and I couldn’t seem to absorb enough about attachment, trauma, resiliency, etc. What I was learning felt like it was providing some of the missing pieces of the puzzle in my work.

I realized how much I missed when I was a new therapist. How many times I didn’t honor the stories of the families I worked with enough and instead looked at them through the lens of diagnosis and pathology. I also learned more about my own story and how it fueled my passion and my purpose for this work even more. I experienced a lot of love growing up, but there were also challenges and traumas that didn’t always get met by the calm and regulating other that I needed.

Providing consultation to our littlest beings so that their caregivers can hopefully become more attuned and connected to them to help prevent trauma and mental health issues really reinforced that this was my calling. So, moving into the role of Associate Director of Caregiver Connections at Chaddock a few years ago seemed like the next important step in my journey. Chaddock is an agency that is deeply connected and aligned with the mission and values of Caregiver Connections which honors the stories of babies, young children and their caregivers/educators and families. It is very fitting that Caregiver Connections has its roots in, and is housed at, Chaddock, where every child has a chance. The work of Caregiver Connections tries to help make this a reality from the earliest of ages and vulnerabilities.

I continue to be very proud of being part of the Caregiver Connections and Chaddock family where our past imprints, current work and what is still yet to come will be felt for many generations.

Editorial Note:
Caregiver Connections provides statewide infant and early childhood mental health consultation and training to licensed and licensed-exempt child care programs. We support child care providers, families and communities to build capacity in nurturing positive relationships, healthy social-emotional development and resiliency for all young children. Through this service, we work to help ensure that young children have the positive caregiving and teaching relationships that they need to set the foundation for positive lifelong learning. We recently expanded our program and now have 41 mental health consultants across the state.