Family-Driven Care: Our Story

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29, 2014 by aprildelfuego

I’ve been involved in Early Connections, an initiative to make the early childhood mental health services here in Alameda County more family-driven and culturally responsive. Last year I wrote a piece about our story:

Early Connections is about uniting family members and providers to make positive changes in the early childhood system of care. Early Connections is creating opportunities for families to speak up, for providers to listen to families, and ultimately for families and providers to work in partnership to transform the early childhood system of care.
• Families Speak Up “When I use my voice, I have a chance to transform the Early Childhood system of care. I can develop mutually responsible and respectful relationships between service providers and family members.”–Parent of a young child
• Providers Listen to Families “I think there needs to be more letting go on the part of providers. Providers need to humble themselves and really listen in a different way to families. Providers can not assume they know best. Better trust needs to be created and this is challenging, since for many families trust was broken time and time again. Healing past wounds is a long slow process. Taking the risk to trust on both ends is the first step.”–Alameda County Provider
• Build Partnerships “I hope to open my mind further to a true collaboration and partnership with families. This has already begun in my work with Early Connections thus far. I have been humbled and challenged to think and speak and work differently.”–Provider, Mental Health Organization

By the time parents come to someone for help with their small child, they are usually quite concerned about their child. Nothing hurts a parent’s heart like watching their child struggle, and from this vulnerable place, parents come to service providers.

Most of us can relate to the experience of seeking help from someone and walking away feeling worse than you did before. Misunderstandings between families and providers are unintentional, but oftentimes families who seek help or answers from early childhood professionals come away with stories like these:
• “When I interfaced with the schools for help for my daughter, there was an attitude of blame—like there was something wrong with me or my daughter. That makes the parent feel even more guilty, ashamed, helpless. You feel like it is a poor reflection on you.”–Parent of a young child
• “When you are going through those crises, there’s not a lot of information and not a lot of help and you can call and call and call until you’re hoarse.–Family member of a child in need of services
• “If you can’t get the help you need for your child, the child will be re-traumatized and continue to deteriorate. What greater pain is there than that?”—Parent of a young child
• “…disrespected because my culture or parenting style is different from the person I’m talking to.” –Parent

Over the last 20 years in Alameda County, a dedicated group of early childhood service providers have worked to develop our current early childhood system of care. They have diligently sought more funding to increase the number of early childhood service providers, and have strived to improve the knowledge and skills of providers in the fields of early care and education, developmental services and mental health services.
• We have been working for years to build a continuum of care that listens to family voice and understands the child and family in a cultural context, as well as to have services for small children talk to one another and understand the whole child and whole family.”—Margie Padilla, Mental Health Provider and Early Connections Project Director
• “I would like the Early Childhood system to have better collaboration and shared resources—a different way of thinking that is truly collaborative with families—not just surface level engagement and collaboration. I would like there to be no waiting list for kids to be evaluated and assessed and a shift in the way CPS operates so that it is more “family friendly.”–Mental Health Provider

• Families are the experts on their children.
Family members know their children better than anyone else does—more than a pediatrician, a therapist, a child care provider–anyone. And yet, when a child is struggling in some kind of way, often doctors and therapists are regarded as the experts about the child, and the parents’ expertise on their own children is relegated to second class status.

No matter where in the world we’re from, what our family history is, what culture we claim, we all have beliefs and traditions about how to raise our children. It is easy for certain types of parenting practices to be applied in a cookie-cutter fashion, which can make people from some cultures feel misunderstood and unheard, and can make suggestions from a service provider come across as a mismatch for a family.
Providers who understand a family’s expertise, strengths and culture can build equal partnerships with families that support a child’s well-being and growth.

“When my daughter was a baby, we had a worker who talked with me as an equal– from a place of being a parent herself. She believed in my daughter’s ability to thrive and grow, and encouraged me to believe in myself as a parent, since I know my child best. This worker and I learned a lot from each other.

When my daughter was 3, we had a child care provider who didn’t have such a collaborative relationship with us. She called my daughter “unsuccessful.” How can someone be “unsuccessful” when they’re only 3? By that time I was involved in Early Connections, and I was able to ask her not to use that word about my child, since it wasn’t helpful in identifying my daughter’s specific challenges, and because it hurt me as a parent to hear her say that about my child. Then I moved on to a different child care situation.

Every child and every parent deserve to be believed in and treated respectfully.”
–Parent of a young child

• Families have the right to be in the driver’s seat.
Every family has the right to be in the driver’s seat of their child’s care, and at Early Connections, we are working to promote Family-Driven Care throughout the system.
• When families are treated as experts about their children, service providers and family members can work together as equals to support the children.
• If families are reporting that it’s difficult to find and use services, family member concerns need to drive systems changes to make things easier.
• Family members may get their best support from “natural supports”, including faith-based and culture-specific support systems. These natural supports deserve the same respect that mental health agencies receive.
• Family members need to be part of decision-making bodies in all organizations that serve children and families.
• Family members need to be decision-makers regarding organizational, local, state and national policies about children’s well-being.

Early Connections is working to improve the experience of individual families and children, and we’re also part of some larger movements. We stand on the shoulders of the people across the nation who have paved the way for this project to promote partnerships between family members and providers.

• Consumer Movement: The Consumer Movement is a powerful movement of adult consumers (formerly called“patients”) of the mental health system standing up against the abuse they experienced in mental health institutions. This movement was rooted in the social change movements of 1970’s, and has successfully fought for and won positive changes towards self-determination and involvement of consumers at all levels of the mental health system. This movement coined the phrase “Nothing About Us Without Us.”
• Family Voice Movement: Another movement that we owe thanks to is the Family Voice Movement for children with special health care needs (formerly called “disabilities”). Starting in the 1960’s, families of children with special health care needs fought to be able to bring their children home instead of leaving them in hospitals and institutions. This movement has gone on to achieve advances in inclusive practices in schools, has promoted family-centered care, and has improved state and federal policies.
• Systems of Care Movement: The movement to develop of systems of care came directly out of the consumer and family voice movements. In each of these movements there was insight that an integrated system of care can better serve the multiple needs of anyone seeking help.
• Social Justice: Social justice efforts across the country are working to address inequities in institutions and systems, including the early childhood system of care.
• Family Driven Care: Early Connections is part of a growing national movement of families and service providers of young children with social-emotional or mental health concerns who are working to promote the principles and practices of family-driven care.

As the story of Early Connections continues, we give thanks to those who came before us; we listen to those who are currently struggling; and, as families and providers, we move together towards a future where we are united for early childhood wellness.


(You can learn more about this project at


Going to the WPC: Living the Dream, Pushing the Edges

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 31, 2012 by aprildelfuego

I’ve been wanting to go to the White Privilege Conference (WPC) for years. The WPC describes itself as “a conference that examines challenging concepts of privilege and oppression and offers solutions and team building strategies to work toward a more equitable world.”

Why do I want to go to this conference? Because I want to live my dream and push my edges of growth.

My dream is to participate in changing the unfair systems of white privilege and racism that exist in our world, our country, our communities, and within all of us. I’ve been working on these issues as an individual and at the community level for awhile now, and I feel that it’s important for our local movement be connected to other local movements as well as national organizations. My hope is that the anti-racist/pro-liberation movement is gaining momentum in our country, and I want to be a part of that.

I also want to go to the WPC because I need to push the edges of my growth in my own journey around anti-racism and white privilege. I still have so much to learn, and I hope to have the opportunity to learn from the presentations and workshops, as well as from the people I interact with at a conference like this. An especially important part of this journey is around parenting. Since becoming a mom, I’ve experienced another layer of desire and urgency to work on these issues. I feel I have an important responsibility to pass on and role model as much consciousness as possible to my daughter, and to create a vibrant family community that reflects the beautiful multi-cultural world we live in.

Another way I want to live my dream and push my edges is by figuring out a new career path that could help work towards racial justice and equality. I used to work in the mental health field, and have taken some time off to be a stay at home mom. Right now I do an assortment of work, ranging from my unpaid work in helping run the racial justice organization East Bay Saturday Dialogues, to some stipend-based, equality-oriented volunteer activism in the children’s mental health system, to some paid work doing academic tutoring. I’m hoping to figure out a career path that uses my varied experiences and passions, but I’m really not sure what that could look like for me. Maybe at the White Privilege Conference, I’ll connect with other people who are creatively doing racial justice work, and get some ideas for next steps in my own career path?

I’ve been hearing about the WPC from inspiring people for years. This year I want to be there.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

(A few people have expressed an interest in supporting me getting to this conference, so I have set up a donation button for folks who want to contribute to this cause. I’m open to trades or anything to express gratitude for financial support.)

Lessons I’m Learning From Parenting…

Posted in mamahood, Uncategorized on March 28, 2010 by aprildelfuego


#1: My daughter is often quiet around other people, so it seems like people then assume that she doesn’t have anything to say. This is so not true. Once we get alone, she tells me all her observations and feelings. Lesson: JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE ISN’T SAYING ANYTHING, DOESN’T MEAN THEY DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY.

#2: My daughter has been struggling with her aggressive impulses–she regularly pushes other kids, grabs things from other kids, etc. I know most almost-3-year-olds have some of this going on, so we’re working on it, but I’m not too worried. Sometimes on the playground, parents of under-2-year-olds, look askance at her when she is aggressive with their child, and then they give me a withering look, like “If you were doing your job, your child wouldn’t be acting like this!” When Sonnet was under 2, and a 2 1/2 or 3-year-old was aggressive towards her, I admit I foolishly thought, “My kid’s not like that, we must really be doing something right!” Lesson: JUST BECAUSE YOUR CHILD ISN’T ACTING OUT IN THE WAY THAT MY CHILD IS, DOESN’T MEAN THAT SOMEDAY THEY WON’T!

When will it end?…thoughts on the Oscar Grant shooting

Posted in activism on January 9, 2009 by aprildelfuego

I’m so angry and sad about the recent incident where the BART police officer killed Oscar Grant on New Year’s morning.

Watching those videos, I just cried for that young man lying on the ground, surrounded by cops he knew he couldn’t trust, knowing things could go either which way, but hoping they wouldn’t go the way that they went. And I cried for the guy’s family and friends, and the tragic loss they’re dealing with now that he’s been murdered. And I cried tears of anger for the injustice of not only this incident, but centuries of brutality and violence that white folks have inflicted on black folks, and when will it end, when will it end?!!??

What the frack happened? The BART cop, Johannes Mehserle, needs to take responsibility for what he did. He needs to face up to his mistake and answer people’s questions. He needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Being a police officer of any kind does not relieve one of responsibility for one’s actions, and in my opinion cops are too easily let off the hook. Before the advent of video cameras on cell phones and such, an incident like this would likely have been easily covered up. Who could’ve disputed it if the cops said the young man was resisting arrest and was dangerous? Now, everyone can see that he was lying face down on the freaking floor and got shot at point blank range!

But Johannes Mehserle is not the only one responsible for this incident. I think there’s also a level of responsibility that falls on all of us in this country, particularly on white people. As white people, we are taught to fear young black men. For me, it wasn’t a lesson like someone sat me down and told me to be afraid of young black men, it was more like it was so ingrained in the culture around me that nobody had to even say it directly.

On the news the sketches of wanted criminals are so frequently young black men. The justice system and the prisons are full of young men of color. When a white police officer kills a black man, it seems like most white people just accept that there must’ve been a good reason for the officer to shoot him. There are little subtle things like how white people clutch their purses or cross to the other side of the street if a black man approaches. It starts early, too, like when I’ve heard neighbors talk about how the elementary school down the street isn’t a good, safe school because of the black kids who go there. And I remember the way people used to stare if I was out with a black guy, with a mixture of curiosity and repugnance and wanting to warn me away from him. And there’s a million more ways white people are taught to fear black people.

I’ve heard people say that this shooting didn’t have to do with racism, but if this white police officer lives in this country, then he has been exposed to the same lessons as the rest of us. In my opinion, the paradigm that young black men are dangerous and untrustworthy was actively at work that night there in the BART station. Its obvious to me that if Oscar Grant had been a white man, the whole situation would’ve played out differently, and its likely that no one would’ve gotten shot.

I know that BART cop Johannes Mehserle, as an individual, is responsible for his actions that night. But I also believe that its up to all of us to take responsibility for the context in which this shooting happened by working to change the culture of racism and white privilege that teaches white people, among other things, that black people are dangerous.

And, I’ll go one step further and say that I believe that its up to white people in particular to work towards this change. We need to use our unearned white privilege to fight against the institutional and systemic racism that keeps the current racist paradigm in place. We need to look at ourselves and each other and admit our racist thoughts, beliefs and actions, and then find a way to let go of that paralyzing white guilt that keeps us from demanding change from ourselves, each other and the institutions around us. We need to really listen to the stories of people of color about the effects of racism on their lives. We need to join together with other like-minded people to actively move towards racial justice.

And we need to find a way to both hold Johannes Mehserle responsible for his actions, and also compassionately reach out to him and include him in the movement towards positive change.

Wolf pup?

Posted in mamahood on November 14, 2008 by aprildelfuego

Here’s the cutest wolf pup you’ve ever seen!

Obama fan, Oakland girl

Posted in mamahood on November 14, 2008 by aprildelfuego

election day

Sonnet helped me vote for Barack Obama!

oakland girl

Sonnet’s very into hats and will go around putting hats on herself and her parents.  In this picture, she liked mama’s hat so well, she convinced her mom to let her borrow it!

Dog Whistle Racism

Posted in activism on September 26, 2008 by aprildelfuego

I just learned a new phrase at a website called Stop Dog Whistle Racism.  Apparently “Dog-Whistle Racism is political campaigning or policy-making that uses coded words and themes to appeal to conscious or subconscious racist concepts and frames.”

Of course, I knew about the phenomenon, but didn’t know there was a phrase to describe it.  The aforementioned website is about identifying, exposing and responding to this type of racism….check it out!