Young mother playing with her baby at home

Empowering Families: A Strengths-Based Approach to Infant & Maternal Mental Health

Start Early Washington’s Home Visiting Training Manager Adrienne Matthias shares how home visitors can create strengths-based and collaborative relationships with parents that lead to more powerful outcomes.

Adrienne Matthias May 30, 2024
  • Family Engagement
  • Health and Development
  • Professional Development
  • Blog

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As a former preschool teacher, Adrienne Matthias, Start Early Washington Home Visiting Training Manager has always believed in the power of early connections with families. While teaching in Korea in her twenties, she recognized that the most powerful way to reach children was through the parents and caregivers who really had the strongest relationship with them. This awareness of the opportunities to create healthy relationships early on is what eventually led her to home visiting.

Planting the Seeds for Early Intervention

Back in the U.S. teaching preschool, the idea of connecting with families as early as possible became more important to Adrienne, strengthening her view that all parents need support during those first critical years of a child’s life. This led Adrienne to training as a home visitor, because as she sees it, home visiting provides an important resource, partnering with parents in ways that differ from a traditional classroom setting. Home visitors can support parents, building their confidence and providing tools and emotional support during the critical early days of parenting.

It’s not just about watching this child develop, it’s about watching the parent develop and step into their parenting with the knowledge to be able to advocate for their children and see themselves as good, worthy parents.

Adrienne Matthias, Start Early Washington Home Visiting Training Manager
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A Journey to Infant and Toddler Mental Health

As she became a program manager, Adrienne found new meaning in working with home visitors and parent educators through reflective supervision, making time for them to slow down and think more deeply about their practice. By shifting the focus to the home visitor and their needs, it could have significant impact on the delivery of services to families. Adrienne felt a growing desire to learn learning more about infant and toddler mental health, which led her to the Infant Toddler Mental Health certificate program and Portland State University’s Early Childhood Inclusive Education Master’s Degree. Drawn in by the school’s strengths-based and collaborative approach, and infant mental health classes’ exploration of the dynamic between parent-child or caregiver-child relationship in particular, the program reinforced her beliefs of how these interactions profoundly shape a child’s development while impacting the parent’s journey. One that Adrienne sees as a delicate dance that requires understanding, empathy, and advocacy.

The Dance of Parenting

As Adrienne shared, mothers, in particular, often struggle with self-doubt when it comes to parenting. “We tend to focus on our perceived shortcomings rather than celebrating our strengths. Home visiting that supports infant and maternal mental health can step in to bridge this gap. By supporting parents, we empower them to build strong attachment relationships. It’s not just about the child’s growth it’s about the parents’ growth too, and as home visitors, we can be a part of facilitating this transformation firsthand.”

Unseen Impact

Home visitors rarely know the full impact of their work. However, home visitors all have stories that demonstrate the power of the program to support families. Adrienne shares one story of a distressed mother who truly believed she couldn’t handle parenting. Her daughter’s tantrum at a bouncy house left her feeling inadequate and unequipped. By exploring the mother’s strengths, emphasizing and reminding her of the effort she put into creating enriching experiences for her child, despite the challenges of the moment, she was able to recognize that she had persevered through the challenge, and she was able to do it because she knew it was beneficial for her child. Leaning into the strengths-based aspects of the interaction and being able to normalize these emotional moments helps parents recognize their worth.

There are hard things all the time, and it doesn’t mean that you ignore them. The strengths-based approach is how you humanize them and how you hold people in your mind, how you treat people because you are holding them fully as people. That is the most important thing to remember.

Adrienne Matthias, Start Early Washington Home Visiting Training Manager
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The Luxury of Strengths-Based Approaches

In trauma-informed principles, like those at the center of the hope-filled, compassionate NEAR@Home practice for addressing childhood trauma, being strengths-based is essential. Imagine entering someone’s home and focusing on what they’re doing well instead of pointing out flaws. It’s a necessity to be able to see what is going right —one that reveals genuine strengths. When home visitors are able to help parents see the best in themselves, we empower them. It’s not about rigid rules; it’s about acknowledging their efforts. Even after tough experiences, it’s critical to be able to take a step back and appreciate the positives—a parallel process that enriches the practice.

Continuing to Emphasize the Positive

Maternal and infant mental health isn’t just about fixing problems; it’s about celebrating strengths. Home visitors hold a unique position—to witness growth, resilience, and love within families. As Adrienne continues in her role leading Washington’s training efforts and expansion of NEAR trauma-informed practice, she believes in the power and potential of these strengths-based approaches to empower families to build strong and healthy relationships that will last a lifetime.

About the Author

Adrienne Matthias, Home Visiting and Training Manager, Start Early Washington

Adrienne Matthias

Home Visiting and Training Manager, Start Early Washington

Adrienne brings over 20 years of working in early childhood to her role leading training across Start Early Washington’s Home Visiting practices.

More About Adrienne