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Marissa and Mahayla Children's Wisconsin Early Childhood Mental Health

Forging bonds and trust through early childhood therapy

Katie and Josh Albright know that raising foster and adopted kids is incredibly rewarding, even though it’s not always the easy path. 

The Albrights have four children ranging in age from 2 to 8, all of whom they fostered and have now adopted. The two older girls — Marissa, 8, and Mahaylah, 6 — were moved in and out of foster care several times after experiencing abuse and neglect with their birth parents. Marissa experienced attachment disruptions and had difficulty understanding and regulating her emotions. Mahaylah also experienced attachment disruptions, resulting in a strong mistrust of adults. 

Marissa and Mahayla with their early chilldhood therapist, Becky Verdin Children's WisconsinThat’s why they are so grateful to have found Becky Verdin, LCSW, the girls’ early childhood therapist. “Becky taught me everything about how to raise a traumatized child,” said Katie. 

Becky is one of the clinical supervisors of the Early Childhood Mental and Behavioral Health Clinic at Children’s Wisconsin and a licensed clinical social worker. Marissa and Mahaylah’s time spent with Becky included talking about their feelings and emotions and how to manage them when they feel big or out of control. They also engaged in Child Parent Psychotherapy, a model of trauma-informed play therapy that helped the girls learn to bond with Katie and Josh and to be able to feel comforted and trusting. 

Expanding early intervention across the state

Mental and behavioral health challenges are difficult to diagnose in the youngest kids and therefore often go untreated. Early Childhood Mental Health work is essential because children ages 0 to 5 experience one of the most critical periods of brain development.

Young children treated for mental health disorders can learn to form close and secure adult and peer relationships, which help them to experience and express a full range of emotions. They can learn and practice resiliency, and often effects of adverse or traumatic experiences can be repaired.

With the goal of reaching and screening more kids at that vital early age, Children’s Wisconsin made it a priority to create a hub that pulls together and anchors the work being done by individual mental health providers and organizations across Wisconsin. Children’s Wisconsin is coordinating and linking the work of twelve early childhood mental health therapists in offices across the state. In the past two and half years, partnerships have been expanded, strengthened or developed with Froedtert Hospital’s Maternal Fetal Medicine program, the Children’s Wisconsin Home Visiting program, Healthy Infant Court, and the Children’s Wisconsin Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Since this work formally began in 2020, there has been tremendous growth and coordination. Following are examples of progress to date. This team is: 

• Working to add early childhood therapists across the state by mid-2022, based in Stevens Point and Eau Claire, and with two in the greater Milwaukee area. 

• Applying for federal grants that can increase collaboration and standardization among community programs and partnerships. 

• Expanding its partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This fall, the team is supporting several students completing the Infant, Early Childhood and Family Mental Health Capstone Program and the Trauma Informed Child-Parent Psychotherapy training.

Kids in Wisconsin are experiencing a mental and behavioral health crisis, and many families are unsure how to address it with their children. That's why Children's Wisconsin is committed to helping parents and caregivers get the answers they need. To learn how you can play an active role in your child's mental and behavioral health, visit our Shine Through website.

A good goodbye 

Since working with Becky, Katie has set up a “zen zone” in their home — a place for the girls to retreat and feel safe when needed. Katie has also shared many of the tools they use at home with the girls’ school. This has allowed their teachers to better understand their individual needs and extend those important supportive therapies into the classroom. Katie and Josh feel they know how to better parent their two younger children using the tools learned through their therapy. 

“Becky is a saint,” said Katie. “She helps us navigate the entire family and our kids’ needs. She got us connected to resources like occupational therapy when we needed them, and she helps me think about things I would not have considered.” 

As Marissa and Mahaylah “graduated” from the therapy program, a big celebration was held for each of them. Becky wanted to make sure they understood the difference between “good goodbyes” and “hard or sad goodbyes.” 

“Both girls are doing really well right now,” said Katie. “I’m so grateful.”