03 June, 2024 7:26 AM

SPARK Contributes to Community Vibrance

SPARK banner sign posted at the door of their site

Even if you’ve known about IFR for a while, you might be unfamiliar with the SPARK (Supporting Play Attunement and Relationship with Kids). Working with the Sunnydale community, the SPARK has a small but dynamic team that reflects Sunnydale’s diversity.

Offering therapy, clinical case management, and community engagement, SPARK helps to strengthen family connections for newborns to 5 years of age and their families. SPARK’s unique approach is based on a cultural, psycho-social, trauma-informed, healing-centered, attachment, social justice, and mental health framework that builds on the strengths of the child, their caregivers, and the community in which they identify. That can sound ominous, but represents a strong reminder that early childhood mental is important. Moreover, the SPARK team reminds us that young children remember. For this reason, not only do SPARK staff help support parents/caregivers and their children talk about stressful and traumatic events that have happened, but they also help try to cultivate remembering times of hope and joy.

“Families with diverse needs are referred from community partners and the foster care system,” offers SPARK Program Coordinator Linda Mora. “We strive to create a holistic support network that acknowledges the systemic barriers and stresses families face while helping them to strengthen trust and resilience in a safe environment.”

As with many families facing systemic barriers, support doesn’t come easy. “One of our biggest challenges is to navigate a system that doesn’t always move at the speed our families need,” adds Phillip Watson, SPARK Mental Health Clinician. “We are mindful of how systemic and racist policies affect our clients, so we document their needs to honor and contextualize their stories.

SPARK staff agree that one of their key roles is to mitigate the negative effects of racism and systemic barriers. Community engagement is a vital role to help build trust and strengthen relationships, such as being present at community events and inviting families to attend. “We attend community events and build relationships that help families feel seen and connected. By being present and participating in local initiatives, we build trust and establish strong relationships to connect caregivers and children to resources, empower families to advocate for themselves, and create a supportive network that enriches the lives of those we serve,” shares Helen Bowles, SPARK Mental Health Clinician.

Connecting families to services is extremely critical for Sunnydale families, but that isn’t all SPARK provides. “We believe that healing is rooted in relationships,” explains Tia Phillips, SPARK Mental Health Clinician. “Our attachment-based approach enhances the vital role that family and community relationships play in a child's development. By working closely with caregivers and children, we emphasize the importance of collective attachment, where relationships extend beyond the immediate family.”

SPARK’s connection to the Sunnydale community and other SF HOPE communities has continued to grow – strengthening community partnerships, building long-term relationships with families, and continuing to have a strong and contributing presence in the community.

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