Share Your Story – Danielle

Parent Voices: A story on social-emotional development #NowhereToTurn

Being the mother of a young child can be stressful, but having a young child with emotional and behavioral needs has its own unique set of challenges.

Soon after Danielle and her husband moved from New York City to New Jersey, they enrolled their toddler, Theo, into a child care program. Although Theo's physical development was on par with his peers and he was able to verbalize and express his needs, he struggled to self-regulate his emotions and behaviors. Danielle informed the center staff that her son had some behavioral challenges, including biting, but the staff reassured her that they could handle it. However, after just a few weeks, Theo was expelled from the child care center for his behavioral issues. The child care centers were not prepared, nor did they have the resources to address Theo’s emotional and behavioral needs.

Danielle called PerformCare, New Jersey’s Children’s System of Care, which provides resources for mental and behavioral healthcare. However, she was told that they did not have any services for children that young. Determined, she then called every child mental health provider covered under her insurance policy to find services. Of the 89 providers contacted, none were able to help her. “I couldn’t find any infant mental health services in my community to serve my 18-month old. There’s nothing for infant mental health.”

Danielle was finally able to find a therapeutic nursery but the center was for children on Medicaid so she had to obtain a waiver. At last, Danielle found a supportive and nurturing environment for her son to address his social-emotional needs. Theo was making progress, but not long after enrolling, Danielle hit yet another roadblock: the center was shutting down because of discontinued state funding.

Danielle tried to receive early intervention services for Theo. “The wait lists are months and months long to even get evaluations.” Repeatedly, she reached out to early intervention, only to be told that since he only had behavioral issues and met his developmental milestones, they could not help. After reaching out for the third time, they agreed to help and referred the family to a developmental pediatrician. Finally, when Theo was two-and-a-half, he started receiving services. However, early intervention services only last until a child turns age 3.

Eventually, when Theo was three-and-a-half years old, he was diagnosed with multiple special needs, including autism, ADHD and anxiety. While Danielle was grateful to finally receive a diagnosis, she felt frustrated that the process took so long. She knew from an early age that Theo was in need of services and yet was continuously dismissed by a system that is not set up to help babies. Waiting so long to care for his social-emotional development, at an age when his brain is developing the most, meant fewer opportunities to intervene early on, leaving many gaps in service for Theo.

“There needs to be more providers, period, because the wait lists are absurd,” says Danielle. “They know the wait lists are absurd. There’s just not enough providers. No one’s getting trained fast enough. There could be services if there were enough people to evaluate and give the services and if they were more affordable if people took insurance.”

The first three years of life are crucial for a baby's social-emotional development. However, infant mental health professionals are in short supply, preventing families like Danielle's from accessing the support and resources they need. All families deserve access to infant mental health services to promote healthy social-emotional development and set babies on a path for lifelong success.

Read more stories about child care, social-emotional development, paid family leave and family support told by parents and providers

Parent Voices: A story on social-emotional development


Being the mother of a young child can be stressful, but having a young child with emotional and behavioral needs has its own unique set of challenges. Danielle shares her experiences with her son, Theo.

Parent Voices: Child care through the lens of a mother and provider


Jennifer Santana knows the importance of child care for babies as both an Early Head Start manager as well as a mother. However, she also acknowledges the high cost of quality for both the family and for the provider. Read her story.

Parent Voices: Paid Family Leave Helps Parents and Babies


Time spent at home with newborns is a critical bonding period between parent and child, and can also prove helpful for parents simply adjusting to the little one in their lives. Hear one story from a family who had children under the old Paid Family Leave program.

Parent Voices: Challenges after finding child care


"I had to call out of work a lot and employers who don't have children just don't understand."

"If you're a working parent, there's only so many days that you got that you can call out before it starts to be an issue."

"Sometimes, you have to choose, do I need my money? Or do I need to choose my child? I got released from my job because I had to keep calling out. But at the end of the day, I had to be a mom."

Parent Voices: Child care subsidies


"I don't feel like there's a lot of quality day cares and it's kind of like factory-run, especially in low-income day cares."

"All children should be treated the same way, even if you have a subsidy. They deserve to be in a safe place and they deserve to have resources available to them."

"The cost is usually quite a factor. If you and your husband are both working, you don't qualify because you're not poor enough. Just five dollars can put you out of the program."

Parent Voices: Unaffordable


"I only earn enough to cover the babysitter and food. If work is slow, I sometimes can't pay the babysitter so I have to stay home."

"I'm going to be working to pay for child care - it's crazy!"

"What I paid in child care was what it cost for me to go to college for a year!"

"The cost is usually quite a factor. With two people having to work, one of them is just working for the babysitter."

Parent Voices: Quality missing


"I walked in and there were, like, 8 toddlers lying on the floor in the dark watching a TV show and I was like, 'Are you kidding me!?"


"They actually had dirty cribs sitting outside, trash, flies, and all of that. All the strollers and everything piled on top of others in the hallway."


"Every time I come up there, there's a different teacher in his room. I'm like, 'Okay, who are you? You're not the person I met last week."

Parent Voices: Quality costs


"I always say the teacher in the baby room taught me how to be a mom."

"It is ridiculously expensive but they're teaching your children so much. I'm fortunate to have found what we found."

"I'm like, thank God for them because they actually know how to raise children. You know you have educators raising your children as opposed to a parent who no one gave me that book."

Parent Voices: What they look for in child care


"Someone who was right for my child and right for my family."


"It had to be clean, it had to be safe, it had to have good parent recommendations, and allow me to stay with her or watch over to make sure she does okay and pop in and out whenever."


"A place where you will find qualified people that will provide love, learning, teaching, safety. We just want to protect her and give her the best."

Parent Voices: Quality child care


"You have no idea what you're supposed to be looking at."


"I was pregnant and I had no clue what I was getting into. I toured places and I brought my mom and she was hesitant. I'm like, 'But this is my only option - this is it!'"


"I just felt so helpless during that whole time period. If there was a secure door, and people generally seemed happy, that child care center was ok with me, because I just felt desperate."

Parent Voices: What needs to happen


"Make it more available. Because the issue here is not being able to even get to child care or have child care. Make it more accessible, more affordable, and less problems in the registration."


"We need an actual substantive comparison that you can make, more options, good options, would have been less frustrating."


"Let the government know child care matters and that they recognize the strain on families."

Parent Voices: When to begin?


"You have to do it before you conceive!"


"I didn't realize how much in advance you needed to secure a spot... I went to a few day cares and they [said] we have one spot left and there were all these other families touring.... You have to make this huge decision and you have 24 hours to make it! I put my name on waiting lists before we even moved here. They [the child care center] were my first call, they were the first people after my family to find out I was pregnant."

Parent Voices: Flexible hours


"The majority of my background is sales, so people want to hire you for nights and weekends and I don't have weekend help at all."


"It depends on the kind of occupation that you have that determines the hours you need, especially if you work at nighttime.... I guess you have to have someone you trust watch them at nighttime."


"We need a 24-hour day care and with shifts in it because some people work at night."

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