May 9 – National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Guest posting by Judy Sparks…

Clinical Work with Traumatized Young Children edited by Joy Osofky“Presenting crucial knowledge and state-of-the-art treatment approaches for working with young children affected by trauma, this book is an essential resource for mental health professionals and child welfare advocates. Readers gain an understanding of how trauma affects the developing brain, the impact on attachment processes, and how to provide effective help to young children and their families from diverse backgrounds. Top experts in the field cover key evidence-based treatments—including child-parent psychotherapy, attachment-based treatments, and relational interventions—as well as interventions for pediatric, legal, and community settings. Special sections give in-depth attention to deployment-related trauma in military families and the needs of children of substance-abusing parents.”

As an Early Intervention Specialist I’ve had the privilege of knowing many families of young children with special needs over the last 20 years.   Often these children have suffered the effects of trauma early in life, some even before birth, and upon delivery, join life with a foster family.  Some children begin life with their birth family, only to experience traumatic events with parents struggling with their own mental health issues, and land in a foster family setting.  What strikes me most about all these children  is their resiliency.  Given the opportunity to thrive in a nurturing environment often provides amazingly positive results.  In his book , Reconciliation:  A Son’s Story, my husband Steve Sparks  recounts his own family story which bears testimony to how resilient children can be.  Undoubtedly there were role models and mentors who shared hope with Steve and his siblings to help them live positive and productive lives.

Equally amazing, I’ve known children who have returned to their birth parents as family situations have improved, who blossom even more so once reunited with their family of origin.   While there are exceptions to every rule, helping parents maintain a hopeful attitude about family reunification will serve them well as they go through such transitions.  Being ever mindful of the importance of children’s mental health, this National Day of Awareness is a great reminder that parents can nurture themselves and their children following trauma to elicit positive changes in family life.   That is the focus of this year’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.

Judy Sparks
Early Intervention Specialist

One thought on “May 9 – National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

  1. Dan and Elaina* ~

    Judy, I applaud you for the work you are doing with early childhood intervention. My childhood home was extremely traumatic, abusive, and chaotic, with both of my parents being severely mentally ill. My father was diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder when I was 12, and he truly was more than one distinct person. His personalities ranged from wonderfully loving and kind, to unbearably cruel, unpredictable, and even terrifying.

    After my father came so close to killing my mother that I thought she was dead, my dad was arrested, and then put in a psychiatric hospital, where his MPD was diagnosed. A few weeks later, my crazed mother’s traumatized reaction was to threaten to stab herself with a big butcher knife in front of me and my siblings when we were “getting on her nerves,” and when that wasn’t enough, she literally tried to gas us all to death while we were sleeping in our beds. Along with these extremes were many other lesser abuses and traumas that both of my very sick set of parents did over the years.

    Today I am 59, and I have been diagnosed with PTSD caused by those long-ago traumas. But despite this, I have been able to lead a fairly normal adult life in many respects. I married (albeit more than once), I raised 3 children, I went to school and got a practical nurse’s license, and I wrote a novel, which was published 12 years ago. But my much younger brother, on the other hand, has never been able to marry, never had children, never acquired an education, and never held down a job. My sweet, gentle brother has been on social security disability for schizophrenia since he was a teenager. Today he is 50, but more like a child than an adult, living in a group home for the severely disabled.

    I believe the reason for the huge difference in our ability to function after growing up in the same family environment is due to the fact that the worst, most violent traumas in our childhood home happened when I was 12, and my brother was only 3.

    Early experiences do, indeed, matter very much. When the infant and toddler’s brain and personality are being developed, when the sense of self and understanding of the world are being formed, that is when a child is the most vulnerable. Too many people seem to think that what they do or say in front of, or to, a very small child doesn’t matter, because the child won’t be able to remember the things that happened when they were so young. But even if they don’t consciously remember the traumas, as my brother doesn’t, the damage that early trauma does to such a young and delicate psyche is inestimable.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *