I have never been prouder to be a Massachusetts citizen than I was on Tuesday, May 17. I had the privilege to join the press conference that Senator Karen Spilka (D - Ashland) held in her role as Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means to announce the Senate's proposed budget for fiscal year 2017. Senator Spilka is a social worker by training and I believe that her background shaped the title, tone, and priorities contained in the proposed budget.
As an infant mental health practitioner, I was near to tears as Senator Spilka emphasized her belief that resilience is best built from the start -- with infants and their families and caregivers, in the context of relationships. Her budget priorities support expanding care for newborns, early education and care for young children, and economic and housing supports for families so they can begin the journey of parent and infant in an environment of safety and stability. The Committee's language emphasized, "Resilience isn't about self-reliance… Resilience is generated through the development of strong relationships." Quoting the research of Dr. Jack Shonkoff from the Harvard Center for the Developing Child, the budget committee emphasized the state of current research on promoting child development: "Supportive relationships and skill building opportunities [are] key factors for developing resilience in children."
And as a practitioner who pays special attention to the support of parents and infants impacted by substance use, I was glad to see that the Senate's budget prioritized passing additional funding for treatment programs and treatment beds for people with substance use disorders. In Project NESST®, we have adopted a model of care informed by a disease model of addiction. It emphasizes the possibility for recovery with adequate treatment and supports to fight a chronic disease that, without treatment, can involve repeated relapse and myriad health and behavioral consequences. Senator Spilka mentioned numerous times places where her budget increases funding for mental health treatment, recognizing it as essential to building resilience in families impacted by trauma and addiction. Knowing that our elected officials are interested in providing treatment to those impacted by this cruel illness gives me a lot of hope.
I should acknowledge that my positive feelings about the state budget and the senate's priorities were influenced by the recognition by the Senate of the funding requests of the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support® (CERS). Because we too recognize the importance of supporting infants from their earliest moments and of providing families with the tools they need to overcome difficult life experiences, we asked for funds to support our programs for families impacted by the use of substances and families whose babies are born early or with medical complications. These programs provide one-of-a-kind, tailored, free services to vulnerable families who are fostering the development of a newborn baby. With funding from the state budget, our program will offer more direct services as well as more consultation, education, and training to other professionals who also support these families. Whatever the outcome of budgeting, my optimism in our state's future is immensely buoyed because our Senate has rightly emphasized the importance of nurturing earliest relationships for each new member of our Commonwealth.
Amy Sommer, LICSW is the Clinical Coordinator for Project NESST® and Project Bright and co-author of the 2015 Zero to Three article, "Building a model program for substance-exposed newborns and their families: From needs assessment to intervention, evaluation, and consultation."