The first-ever Nebraska Young Child Institute (NYCI) conference is in the books, and we couldn’t be happier with how the event unfolded. More than 500 people gathered in Kearney on June 27-28 to highlight the existing early childhood efforts underway as well as discuss where there are still gaps and barriers for our youngest citizens and their families. Collaboratively planned by Nebraska Children and seven other sponsoring agencies, the conference featured 40 breakout sessions and counted judges, attorneys, caseworkers, home visitors, mental health providers, and other early childhood professionals among its attendees.
A strong start
Day one opened with a welcome from Judge Douglas Johnson of Douglas County Separate Juvenile Court, followed by comments from Nebraska First Lady Susanne Shore, Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Matt Blomstedt, and Department of Health and Human Services CEO Courtney Phillips.
For the first keynote presentation, Dr. Brenda Jones-Harden from the University of Maryland took the stage to speak about the prevalence of trauma in the lives of young children and their families. Dr. Jones-Harden discussed how traumatic experiences like child abuse and intimate partner violence can have unwanted effects on children’s brain development and the families’ mental health. She also presented evidence-based methods for protecting children from adverse effects and shared strategies for developing trauma-informed systems for identification and intervention.
After Dr. Jones-Harden’s address, the conference split into breakout sessions for the rest of the day. Over the course of two days, conference-goers were able to choose breakout sessions from six tracks: Impact of Trauma on the Developing Child, Young Child Development, Legal Representation, Maximizing the Juvenile Court System for Young Children, Evidence-Based Practices for At-Risk Young Children, and Early Education. The schedule also included time for networking, relaxing, and bonding with other attendees over shared goals.
Day 2 highlights
The morning session on day two featured a keynote talk by Dr. Sam Meisels, Founding Executive Director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, as well as a policy panel hosted by Jen Goettemoeller, Senior Policy Associate at First Five Nebraska.
Over lunch, conference-goers watched a panel discussion across state systems and public/private lines that focused on early childhood from a policy and systems perspective, highlighting the importance of the early years (ages 0-5) in improving outcomes among children as well as how agencies and the private sector are making early childhood a priority. The panel included Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley, Buffett Early Childhood Fund President Jessie Rasmussen, State Board of Education President Dr. Rachel Wise, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids’ Tom Casady, and DHHS Division of Children and Family Services Director Doug Weinberg.
The conference concluded with a final block of breakout sessions, after which attendees hopefully took what they learned and started thinking of ways to put it into action.
Of the 40 breakout sessions offered, Nebraska Children staff and contractors presented 14 sessions on a variety of topics including attachment, early childhood screening and assessment, Sixpence, statewide home visiting initiatives, quality child care, Circle of Security-Parenting, social-emotional development of young children, parents interacting with infants, and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). In addition, Nebraska Children brought in two individuals to provide reflective consultation sessions to attorneys and home visitors.
Highlights for attendees included the panel of parents and foster parents who shared their experiences with the child welfare system, learning about evidence-based practices that can support young children and their families and how to access them, and networking with other professionals. As one attendee commented, “Having multiple agencies and systems attend and present was amazing! We can learn so much from each other and work together on issues our families are facing.”
For more information about the Nebraska Young Child Institute, visit https://www.neyoungchildinstitute.com.