In 2022, the Washtenaw County Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage Advisory Committee awarded a $2.3 million grant to the Intermediate School District to fill gaps in youth mental health programming. Prevention is a core objective of the grant. The ISD proposed the expansion of the Mom Power program as part of the grant to prevent mental health issues in children before they enter school. Mom Power is a program of Zero to Thrive, a multidisciplinary center at the University of Michigan that promotes health and resilience of families from pregnancy through early childhood, particularly in families exposed to adversity.
“Zero to Thrive really aims to promote families, resilience, and well-being through research, training, and service,” explains Co-Director and U-M Professor Dr. Katherine Rosenblum. “Early foundational relationships can create a protective buffer for young children to achieve their optimal development even in the face of adversity. What Zero to Thrive adds to that is an understanding that it’s not only about parenting, but it’s about what parents need,” she says. Mothers of preschool aged children are often stressed and under-resourced. Increasing stability for these parents benefits the whole family. “It’s a process of self discovery and self exploration for the parent,” says Director of Strategy Sandra Bitonti Stewart. Through Mom Power, mothers learn to approach their children’s behavior with curiosity, and “report an increased capacity to reflect on and respond to their own and their children’s emotions,” she says, adding that “If we want healthy babies, we need healthy moms.”
Mom Power is facilitated by clinicians and other providers who work with mothers and their children during 10 group sessions and three one-on-one sessions. The data-driven curriculum applies attachment theory, cognitive behavioral, and dialectical behavioral strategies with proven results. For the past twelve years, researchers at Zero to Thrive and their collaborators have published studies on the impact of the Mom Power program to improve trauma informed care and treatment for mothers exposed to high levels of adversity. Quantitative and qualitative data show that participants experience a reduction in stress, depression, PTSD, and social isolation as a result of the program. Mom Power is the only program that has documented increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for empathy. “It actually helped change the ways parents were responding to their baby’s cries even at a brain based level, which is pretty amazing,” says Dr. Rosenblum. Mothers who have been through the program report an increased sense of personal wellbeing and connection to their children. “Because of Mom Power I definitely feel like I’m more equipped as a parent than I was before,” says Leatherwood. “It helped me to be able to talk to my whole family in a different way. I was able to manage my anxiety and I learned more coping techniques for stress,” she says.