Santa Rosa's Child Parent Institute helps new mothers, children through traumatic struggles
In the first year of their baby’s life, up to one in five American mothers feel an overwhelming sense of gloom, sometimes referred to as the “baby blues.”
Doubts about their parenting abilities permeate their minds. There’s feelings of anger, guilt, worry, tears, doubts, sadness, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, hopelessness, isolation, trouble focusing, lack of sleep, a sense of emptiness, and, for some, even thoughts of suicide.
To help treat postpartum depression and anxiety, the Child Parent Institute, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit organization, added a perinatal mood disorder program last year for Sonoma County mothers in need of mental health services.
“It focuses on depression and anxiety in the postpartum period, which we know is really important. It’s really common and it’s not talked about enough and it’s underserved,” said Megan Nuñez, child and family counseling services manager at the Child Parent Institute. “So we’re really trying to expand that program right now, identify those moms who need support for their postpartum depression and give them that support.”
The new program is one of several from the Child Parent Institute, an organization that supported 7,732 parents and children last year to strengthen family health and end child abuse.
Other programs include parenting classes, creative arts for children, a diaper bank, a small school for fifth through 12th graders who’ve experienced trauma and need intense counseling support, school-based therapy in the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District and a child and family counseling clinic.
“For people who have had adverse childhood experiences, we know there is a proven link to severe health problems and lower socioeconomic circumstances when they grow up and it becomes this cycle,” said Robin Bowen, executive director of the Child Parent Institute. “We can make sure every day more children are going to bed happier in their family circumstances. It makes a big difference for the community.”
The perinatal mood disorder program for mothers was added about six months ago when Child Parent Institute providers noticed parents bringing in their children for mental health services sometimes had trauma triggered by their kids’ behavior. Trauma can be intergenerational, Nuñez said.
“(Trauma) can be a barrier to parenting sometimes, so this two-generation approach lets us work with the kids and the parents so that the kid is processing their trauma and the parent is processing their trauma, too,” said Nuñez, a licensed psychologist. “Because of that, they’re less likely to go home and yell at their kid or hit their kid. They’re better able to get to a calm space to respond to their kid in a more thoughtful manner.”
The perinatal mood disorder program is home-based, so clients typically receive services from providers for an hour a week in their own homes. It’s funded by First 5 Sonoma County and two therapists in the program also accepts MediCal recipients.
Nuñez said the nonprofit focuses on trauma because it can be “so debilitating to someone’s life” and having grants to help underserved families makes a big difference in their lives and in the community. The clinic last year provided 3,594 hours of counseling. It accepts Medi-Cal, victim assistance funds from the state or income-based private pay using a sliding scale.
“When you’ve experienced a trauma it affects every aspect of your life and to be able to work through that and get back on track with your life is really important,” she said.