Foundation MSW IV-E Fellow, Danielle Allen is completing her first field placement at Southside Family Nurturing Center (SSFNC) located in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis. Below, Danielle reflects on how her perspective on early childhood intervention has shifted during her time interning at SSFNC. Southside was founded over 40 years ago with the belief that child abuse and neglect are preventable.
Their mission is:
Together with families and communities, we nurture children, build on family strengths, and find alternatives to violence.
It’s Monday morning circle time and the toddler sitting on my lap bounces up and down, too excited to remain consistently seated because he knows it is now his turn. “Pick a song,” I say, as I hand him a laminated, handmade book of both Spanish and English songs with little illustrated pictures. He points to the picture of the song “Los Pollitos” and I say, “Say ‘chicken’! Say ‘pollito’ and we will sing your song.” His face scrunches up in resistance and he slaps the book, so I say “No thank you” to his hitting and instead begin to cluck like a chicken, pretend pecking at him until he finally announces in a tiny voice “Chicken!” The four teachers and I all begin singing the song as his face lights up and he waves his hands in an effortful but un-mastered imitation of our hand gestures. When the song finishes I say “Please pass the book to your friend,” and he does so without hesitation as the next pair of eyes lights up.
Early childhood education and intervention did not seem to be very inspiring work to me at the beginning of my internship at Southside Family Nurturing Center—valuable and honorable, but not inspiring. I wanted to be at the frontlines of crisis and conflict, defusing dramatic altercations and levying unstable mental states. However, I decided to step outside of my social work comfort zone and accept a field placement at a therapeutic early childhood education center. This is where I spend half my day in the classroom with toddlers who are barely able to speak, and it has been one of the best educational investments of my career. I have learned firsthand as it unfolds in front of me the dramatic impact of high-quality early childhood education and intervention for children at risk of not being prepared for kindergarten due to barriers at home. Working at Southside with children and their families, who all face severe and varied barriers to success, including domestic violence, housing instability, mental illness and a variety of other adversities, has shown me that social work is not all about repair and reconstruction. Early childhood education and intervention is an opportunity to longitudinally prevent the very need for a social worker and, in some ways, even prevent adversity—a revolutionary concept for me. As social work professionals, if we take a step back to examine how much of our client population was denied the ability to develop the educational, social and emotional skills in early childhood that are necessary to facilitate healthy long-term social, cognitive and emotional skills. It seems overwhelmingly obvious that the problems some families are experiencing could have been eased or prevented with earlier intervention on both the individual and family level. Southside has taught me that getting a toddler to ask for something by name is important. Stringing a bead on yarn is important. Picking up the block if you threw it is important. Using your words is important. And from where I sit, what is most important is following through on helping the child to understand these importances too—even if it means having to cluck and peck like a crazy chicken.