An interview with First 5 Alabama member and endorsee,
Lee Johnson III, M.A., CHES®, IMH-E®.
How did you come to learn about infant and early childhood mental health?
I first learned of infant and early childhood mental health after being informed by the Director of Child Development Resources at the University of Alabama, Dr. April Kendrick. She shared with me, back in the fall of 2014, a growing effort to increase awareness around infant and early childhood mental health through Project LAUNCH. Dr. Kendrick sent me a research synthesis document curated by researchers from Georgetown University, University of Alaska Anchorage, Portland State University, and Northwest Professional Consortium Inc. (NPC) Research. The report, distributed by The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning at Vanderbilt University, described early childhood mental health consultation. Upon reading, I was prompted to do a website search, and I stumbled across First3Years (Texas Association for Infant Mental Health). I was eager about learning additional information, particularly around Endorsement®, since I was in the process of heading to Texas, the following summer, to work in a childcare center (named Vogel Alcove) with children experiencing homelessness.
What made you decide to pursue your Endorsement®?
In the summer of 2015, I arrived at Vogel Alcove in Dallas, Texas, and heard about Isabel Tanco, the project coordinator for First3Years. She let all the therapeutic early childhood educators know, via email, that she would be visiting the preschool where I worked. It was her presentation, passion, and knowledge about the Endorsement® that prompted me to apply. I learned quickly from her understanding that the Endorsement® further recognizes the work I have done in the infant-family field and presents to other professionals my commitment to being culturally sensitive, relationship-focused in practice promoting infant mental health.
Did you feel that the Endorsement® process was affirming of your knowledge and skills in the infant-family field?
Yes, I certainly feel that the Endorsement® process was affirming of my knowledge and skills in the infant-family field. I’ve done work previously with young children on the autism spectrum. The Endorsement® process allowed me to highlight that experience furthering the affirmation of my infant-family knowledge and skills.
What is your profession/title?
I am Director of First 5 Alabama® & State and National Cross-Agency Collaboration.
Since becoming endorsed, how has the credential benefited you in your professional life?
I think with the increase of interest in infant mental health over the years, the stage was already set to begin working alongside professionals in Alabama when I returned from Texas. On March 31, 2017, I was able to take part in the launch of Alabama’s Association for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, also referred to as First 5 Alabama®. As a first-year Ph.D. student studying public health, interested in infant and early childhood mental health, it was a dream come true. I was able to contribute to the name First 5 Alabama® having reserved the social media accounts (i.e., Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) with that name in hopes that one-day Alabama would have their infant and early childhood mental health association. I excitedly contributed to the creation of the logo for First 5 Alabama® and subsequently was named Chair of the Awareness and Outreach Committee for doing so. After about three months, due to my energy, commitment to the vision of the Association, and willingness to dive headfirst, I joined the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education as Director of the Office of Early Learning and Family Support. Therefore, it was invaluable for me to learn of the Endorsement® process, become Endorsed®, and raise awareness of infant and early childhood mental health in my professional life.
Would you recommend that others in the infant-family field pursue Endorsement®?
Yes, I highly recommend professionals that are in the infant-family field pursue Endorsement
. It is an invaluable process and will display for many others a steady commitment to being diversity-informed, culturally sensitive, and relationship-focused in practice promoting infant and early childhood mental health.
The Value of Membership with First 5 Alabama®
"Membership in First 5 Alabama® is something all early childhood professionals should consider. The organization provides high-quality professional development opportunities applicable to practitioners working in a variety of early care settings all at an extremely affordable membership rate. Membership in First 5 Alabama® was a no-brainer for my colleagues and me because it integrates seamlessly into our work statewide with infants, toddlers, and young children as well as infant-family practitioners. Additionally, the collaboration and advocacy work First 5 Alabama® does is of extreme interest and value to me as an early childhood state leader who is interested in moving the infant and early childhood mental health profession forward."