On Friday, May 13, the Yavapai County Juvenile Courthouse was a full house as cross-sector professionals eagerly gathered for an in-person training on The Intersection of Child Welfare and Early Childhood Mental Health presented by Dr. Lorenzo Azzi. These individuals participate in the Yavapai County Best for Babies program, a program that aims to improve outcomes for maltreated infants and toddlers through increased judicial leadership, community collaboration, and workforce development.
Best for Babies strives to help cross-sector professionals become advocates for the infants and toddlers in the child protection system by first learning about their unique needs through training and workforce development. Best for Babies’ goals were perfectly captured in the face of Carlos Garcia, a former caseworker for the Department of Child Safety, as he excitedly approached Prevent Child Abuse Arizona Program and Training Director Meghan Hays-Davis with photos of his graduation from Arizona State University School of Social Work with his Master of Social Work degree. “I did it,” Carlos exclaimed, “and it all started because of you!”
While Meghan was an Infant Mental Health Therapist for Polara Health, she and Carlos worked on a few cases together. While working on their cases, Carlos and Meghan discussed their future professional goals, including Carlos’s future graduate education. Carlos said “Meghan was one of the best therapists at the clinic. I appreciate her knowledge and experience, and for that reason, I follow her advice to advance my education through the Master of Social Work program.”
Carlos and Meghan’s interactions mirror Meghan’s story, also. Fourteen years ago, Meghan attended her first Best for Babies meeting while working as a tribal child protection worker in Prescott. There, she met then Executive Director and Founder of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, Becky Ruffner. In talking to her about her path she stated “If you know Becky, you know that she has an affinity for gathering people around a cause. All of the work we do for young children in foster care centers on relationships.” At that meeting, Meghan found her calling to provide for the unique needs of infants and toddlers. Becky suggested that Meghan consider Arizona State University’s graduate program in Infant and Family Practice – which she did! After graduating, she worked as a Birth to Five Family Clinical Advisor in community behavioral health for eight years, which ultimately led her to meet Carlos. “I truly believe Becky was my guiding star in my work with young children and their families. My goal now as the facilitator of Best for Babies in Yavapai County is to emulate my mentor Becky Ruffner’s presence by welcoming and developing the local workforce and getting them jazzed about the unique needs of infants and toddlers while supporting them to acquire the skills to truly help them.”
Now equipped with his Master of Social Work degree, Carlos continues to dream of what is next, “My goal is to continue supporting children, families, and especially Hispanic families. It breaks my heart that in the Latinx/Hispanic community, mental health, and mental illness are often stigmatized topics resulting in prolonged suffering in silence. Additionally, I observed that the Latinx/Hispanic community faces unique institutional and systematic barriers that may impede access to mental health services, resulting in reduced help-seeking behaviors.”
Meghan and Carlos’s story shows how inspirational intentions take time to bloom; much because of the hard work and dedication needed to get there. But in both situations, their big dreams were realized because the right person entered their path and a relationship blossomed. Yavapai County is teaming with professionals who visualize better outcomes for infants, toddlers, and their families. Best for Babies is simply a conduit to gather these change-makers to inspire and learn from one another. We know that Meghan and Carlos will go on to positively influence the lives of many more children and the professionals who serve them.
The Dr. Azzi training was made possible thanks to the funding from
the Yavapai regional First Things First council.