baby playing with blocks

UK expands training to help substance-exposed children

Educators from the University of KY are providing a unique service to address a desperate need- training students to work with babies born substance exposed.

The team of educators includes Dr. Jennifer Grisham and Dr. Sarah Hawkins-Lear from UK’s Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education (IECE); Dr. Joneen Lowman and Dr. Judith Page from Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), and Dr. Caroline Gooden from the Human Development Institute (HDI). They have been awarded funding from the US Department of Education to provide training for IECE teachers and speech pathologists to work across disciplines with babies who are born substance exposed. The project is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Training for Interdisciplinary Professionals (NASTIPS).  NASTIPS will train IECE and CSD graduate students to provide high quality interdisciplinary interventions to children born substance-exposed; that is, children whose mothers used substances such as illicit drugs or alcohol during pregnancy.

“We have lots of babies in Kentucky who are born substance exposed as a result of the opioid epidemic,” Gooden said, adding that opioids join alcohol as a common cause of substance exposure in children. “It’s a huge epidemic, and most of our teachers aren’t trained to recognize it or to know what to do with it.”

Substance exposure is a multifaceted situation, and it will take many different approaches to help these children and their families.

NASTIPS builds on a prior HDI training program called Project SCOPE (Supporting Children of the Opioid Epidemic) that used telehealth sessions to help providers across disciplines work with children who are born substance exposed and their families.

“We recognize that we need to have an interdisciplinary approach to work with this population,” Gooden said. “It’s not a single-symptom kind of situation. We have babies who need services, families who need services, and doctors who seek training in substance abuse treatment methods. It’s a complex network of services that we need to build.”

There are other agencies in KY that are working to create supports to help this population, and Gooden says the work they’re doing is critically needed and are partners in this effort. This project addresses an unmet need for IECE teacher and speech/language pathologist (SLP) training that has not been provided to date.  

“We’re excited because there is no such training program in Kentucky…We’re excited about this because it brings an educational component to programs in KY that are desperately needed,” Gooden said, adding that  “most of our teachers and SLPs aren’t trained to recognize neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) or to support children with NAS, which is what this project will provide.”

To that end, the project will train two cohorts of eight students each for two years of study, serving a total of 16 students over four years, to use high quality practices with these children and their families.  

“These teachers and speech therapists will effectively know how to work with the children on their caseloads and will be able to assist other teachers and SLPs in their agencies across the state,” Gooden said.

She stressed that for this project, the focus isn’t only on teaching the children; also, families are a key part of their children’s success. The program will take a holistic approach, helping its students work with the whole family.

“In most early childhood settings, you have lots of involvement with families, which is wonderful,” Gooden said. “One thing we can’t stress enough is that as an IECE teacher or SLP, we need to be really accepting of where our families are. They might be in recovery; they might be struggling to get in recovery and to get the services they need as a family. They need our support and not our judgment.” Gooden stressed that as important as it is to recognize and address the effects of substance exposure in children, it is just as important to treat these children and their families with compassion.  “We need to be nonjudgmental and serve these children where they are, as well as their families. Families with substance use disorder suffer from lots of stigma, which can be a barrier to their treatment and recovery,” she said. “We want to address the whole family’s needs and the whole child’s needs.”

“I hate being treated like an emergency waiting to happen.” UK student Bailey Patterson speaks on her experience with suicide and wanting to help others

The following article discusses suicide, suicidal ideation, miscarriage, and sexual abuse, which some readers may find distressing. 

Bailey Patterson was 4 or 5 when she began struggling with suicidal thoughts. 

“Things like ‘I wish I’d never been born,’ ‘I don’t want to be here,’ ‘I wish I would die,’” Patterson, a senior Interdisciplinary Disability Studies major at UK who identifies as multiply disabled, said. “Those thoughts progressed as life threw me more curveballs, where I was pretty actively having suicidal thoughts probably every day of my life when I was in middle school and high school. Still, I would never have a plan, it was just pretty aggressive thoughts.” 

That lasted until she was 16, when a friend had experienced a traumatic event for which Patterson felt responsible. Her mother interrupted her first suicide attempt shortly after that.

Patterson is not alone in struggling with suicidal thoughts. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the US. The World Health Organization reports that it is the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. The CDC reports that 12.3 million American adults have serious suicidal thoughts and 1.7 million attempt suicide. In 2022, 49,449 people died by suicide. 

Patterson considers herself chronically suicidal, but stresses that suicide is a complex issue. Mental illness is often a component of it – according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 46 percent of people who die by suicide have a known mental health condition – but Patterson stresses that there are other extenuating circumstances. She remembers her first stay as an inpatient in a mental health facility. The only other patients in her ward were girls, ages 12 to 17.

“There was a really common thread about gender-based violence,” she said. “Several of the girls on the ward had been sexually abused by older men.” 

Patterson noted that she thinks this ties into a major factor in suicide that is commonly overlooked.

“There’s this narrative in popular culture that if someone is suicidal, it’s because they don’t see the value in their lives or they’re depressed, and you can do this that and the other to make it go away. You can take long walks and you can eat healthier and you’ll feel less depressed,” she said. “For many people, the cause of the suicidal thoughts or the depression is the situation they’re living in. There are people living in current abusive situations that they feel they have no way of escaping from, there are people who are dealing with interpersonal violence or abuse, there are people who are homeless, there are people who are in poverty, there are people who are experiencing systemic interpersonal racism and sexism and bigotry. Those things are not things that you can walk and eat better to get rid of.”

That means that addressing those issues will help also help address the risk of suicide among marginalized populations. Patterson believes that addressing those issues while promoting mental health will do a lot to solve the problem.  

“I feel like if we understood that and worked towards those goals while also keeping in mind personal wellness and self-care and things like that, that would be a big help,” she said. “A lot of people are overlooking some of the greatest causes of distress that are leading people to be suicidal.”

She also remembers difficult times and experiences for both her and the others she met during her two inpatient stays. Among them, she particularly recalls a patient with a fear of needles being given medication by injection against her wishes when that patient felt there were other ways to administer similar medication and another woman on her second trip to inpatient services who had been pregnant when she was checked in and miscarried after being given a medication early in her stay.

That experience awakened in Patterson a desire to help others with the same struggles. Now, she channels that into standing against abuse and the loss of autonomy in psychiatric settings. Currently, Bailey is a Student Informatician with SPHERE at HDI, Officer of the Disabled and Ill Student Coalition, and an activism and research advocate in the Mad Pride and Psychiatric Survivors movements.

“The feeling of solidarity with these other with these other people who were also experiencing something similar to what I was in the moment, being there, hearing their stories changed my life,” she said. “That was the first moment where I thought ‘this is important and I want to do something about this for the rest of my life.’”

Helping others is one of the ways in which she deals with the frequent thoughts of suicide that she still experiences – and feels like she will always experience. 

“I manage, like a lot of us do,” she said. “Take it one day at a time and try to take care of myself as best I can, but I do not foresee a life for myself where I do not feel suicidal in some degree most days of my life. That’s probably just the way it is for me. That’s something that I’m going to have to continue to manage for the rest of my life, and I think that’s ok.”

She’s found a few coping mechanisms that can help when the thoughts get particularly bad. 

“One of the things that I do is I try to imagine a time in the future where I am happy,” she said. “That can be really hard, especially when you’re very depressed, but I have a couple of things in my mind, scenarios where I could be doing this thing that would be a happy moment for me. I try to really picture it and stay in that moment…then I try with all my might to believe that could happen for me one day. That’s my best coping mechanism thus far.” 

And if someone close to you is struggling with suicidal thoughts, Patterson stressed that one of the best ways to help is to keep treating them like a human being. 

“Anyone who hears that their loved one is going to have emotions that come up for them, but I think the number one thing you can do is not freak out,” she said. “You should be there, and you should attend to the problems…I sometimes get the feeling that we are treated like a danger. I hate being treated like an emergency waiting to happen. I think the best thing you can do is just be calm and present for that person and realize that the person speaking to you is the person you’ve known.”

Warning signs of suicide may include: 

  • No longer participating in things they enjoy
  • Feeling sad all or most of the time
  • Talking about dying or wishing not to be alive
  • Feeling hopeless or feeling like one has no purpose
  • Withdrawing from social groups or saying goodbye
  • Giving away important items

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available. You can call the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988 or text SAVE to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Both services are free and available 24/7. If someone is in immediate danger call 911 or go to your local Emergency Room.

This article represents the opinions of the author and interviewee, not that of the University of Kentucky. 

Staff Spotlight Richelle Gabbard

People make her happy! A staff spotlight on Richelle Gabbard

Richelle Gabbard calls herself a people person.

She considers herself an extravert. She loves to learn about people, and loves to help them solve their problems. And as a part of HDI’s HR team, those are good traits to have.

“When I’m around people and I get to talk to people and get to know them personally outside of their position…I get to know them for them,” she said. “For me, that’s important. I love that I get to do that.”

Gabbard is HDI’s Human Resources Payroll Assistant. That means that she helps ensure that everyone receives their paychecks in a timely and orderly manner. But that’s far from all she does.

“I am the go-to person for STEPS positions, temporary positions, student positions,” Gabbard said. “Any type of HR question, you can come to me. Any payroll question, you can come to me…I’m basically the person to go to other than Jessica [Whiting, HR Manager].”

Gabbard started working with UK through a STEPS position, which refers to a type of temporary position filled through the university’s staffing agency. Prior to that, she’d worked in management, a very different place from where she ended up. At the time, she’d been off work for eight months following the birth of her son.

“I wanted to find something that was more suited to his schedule. I wanted to not work weekends. That was a big thing for me,” Gabbard said. “I started shopping around on the jobs posting at UK. I ended up landing a position with STEPS.”

She started working in an accounting setting in the administrative team, starting part time at 10 hours a week. She steadily graduated to 20 hours a week, but then COVID hit.

“My position completely changed because I was doing filing. Obviously you can’t do filing from home,” she said. “That’s when Jessica started changing things…She became my supervisor and my position has done nothing but grow since then.”

Gabbard has liked the experience she’s had working at HDI. She feels like it’s a good, supportive workplace where people respect one another.

“I feel like we’re all connected. Nobody really feels higher than anybody else,” she said. “I feel like I can have a conversation with anyone here…I don’t feel like I’m a number.”

She also feels like HDI is a diverse workplace – something that is to its advantage.

“We have our own projects and our own needs, but I feel like it’s all one unit,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re here for one mission.”

At home, Gabbard is working on finding balance in her life. With her son headed to preschool, she finds herself with a lot more free time and is using that time to discover new hobbies, find a balance in her life, let herself be introspective, and spend more time with her friends. And that’s a good life for her.

“I’m a minimalistic person. I don’t need a lot to make me happy. I definitely don’t think financial success is a motivating factor,” Gabbard said. “I would rather love what I do and not be a billionaire than have all the money in the world and be unhappy.”  

Staff Photo of Sally Dannenburg, UK HDI Logo top left

Quilting a Life of Learning. A staff spotlight on Sally Dannenberg

Sally Dannenberg loves to learn and watch people learn. Maybe that has something to do with why she enjoys working with children so much – after all, for them, every day is an opportunity for new lessons and new adventures.

“I’ve always been interested in working with children,” she said. “I enjoy all the things that they’re learning every day all the time, and every day is kind of like a challenge for them. It’s something new. They see things a lot differently than we do.”

Dannenberg, a research and development associate with HDI’s Child Care Aware program, has been involved in childcare across multiple states for about 15 years. She started as a pediatric nurse before getting involved with childcare, including the Child Care Aware program in Minnesota. It’s part of what brought her to HDI – she saw a lot of the good work that the program did there, and saw a chance to continue the good work she’d already been doing.

“My original position was with Race to the Top, which was a grant to improve child care in Kentucky,” she said, adding that there were a number of equivalent grants across the US. “I was interested in that because I’d seen some of the changes they’d made in Minnesota through this grant.”

By now, she’s been with HDI for nine years. She’s been involved in a number of childcare-related projects within HDI, including courses for childcare providers – something she says she’s really proud of. Part of what’s kept her here is that she has the chance to constantly learn and grow as she works.

“There’s always something new to learn,” she said. “I learn constantly from all the other projects at HDI.”

The other part? She says it’s the people.

“They all have the same focus,” she said. “We care about people from birth to death…Childcare Aware is trying to help people get that best start that we can.”

While Dannenberg gets plenty of chances to learn on the job, she also loves to learn at home. She has a list of skills she wants to learn. One she’s best known for is quilting and sewing, to the point where she created a quilt that was raffled off as part of HDI’s 50th anniversary. If you ask her about it, though, she’ll tell you she’s not talented, she’s persistent. She’s stayed persistent since junior high.

She has a list of skills that she wants to learn beyond that. And through her persistence, she has learned a few – caning chairs, upholstering furniture – including a chair that was falling apart. Currently, she’s working on learning stained glass.

“It’s just kind of like a bucket list,” she said. “Usually, it’s something I want around my house that I couldn’t go out and buy. I want to say ‘I did that.’”

She also mentions that her family is the most important thing to her – and with them, she can put all that childcare experience to use to make sure they get the chance to grow up right.

“Even though my grandkids live far away, I still make the time to drive or fly to see them,” she said. “Just letting them know about how I grew up and teaching them things they can use the rest of their life too.”

Quilt with blue and white UK branding
Quilt by Sally Dannenberg

Austin wearing a green, linen shirt smiling in front of trees. She has long, brown wavy hair

Nugent appointed to National Disability Rights Network Board of Directors

Austin Nugent has built bridges between many different parts of the disability community, and she’s about to put those connections to use. 

Nugent, who is a Disability Program Administrator at HDI, has been named an At-Large member for the National Disability Rights Network’s (NDRN) Board of Directors. That means that she’ll help provide oversight to an organization that protects and advocates for people with all sorts of disabilities nationwide, focusing on ensuring that people’s rights are protected.

“I will be not only helping to provide oversight to NDRN to make sure that their mission is in line with their services, but it’s also to make sure that the NDRN is aware of the issues happening in our communities,” she said.

And that is a position that Nugent is well-suited for. She has friends and family in multiple corners of the country and is connected to numerous diverse disability communities. Nugent brings a number of different skill sets to her role, including expertise in disability policy – a field in which she’s currently working on her master’s. She’s excited for the opportunity to be involved in helping build supports for her family, which is not based in Kentucky.

“My north stars are my brothers, and sometimes it feels like I’m so far removed from the systems that are supporting them,” she said. “The fact that I get to be involved with NDRN feels like I get to be a part in shaping the systems that are ultimately impacting their lives in Arizona.”

For now, she’s serving as an alternate, meaning that she votes on issues when other At-Large board members aren’t available. However, in October, the terms for the other At-Large board members end and she becomes a full board member.

“Like HDI, NDRN is a cross-disability organization focused on a variety of issues – education, healthcare, supported decision-making, etc. They support people with all types of disabilities, including Down syndrome, mental health disorders, and various health conditions, she said. “All things that are part of my life or the life of someone I know. So the fact that I get to bring together all my experiences, and wear all my different hats at a national level is so exciting!”

Current board member, and Executive Director of Kentucky Protection & Advocacy (P&A), Jeffrey Edwards, who nominated Nugent, said that he worked with her as part of the mental health advisory council for P&A. Frequently, Edwards looks at those boards for NDRN candidates.

“All of us can be self-advocates, but there are those of us who are born with it inside,” Edwards said. “It’s just that fire in your belly to make the world a better place, and I think that’s what Austin brings to it…That’s who she is.”

And for Edwards, those traits exemplify what Nugent is capable of – and the kind of attitude she’ll bring to the board.

“Those are people who bring something to the table,” he said. “They’re a known advocate, they’re passionate, they’re willing to go the extra mile, they share their experience and disclose the things that impact them. Austin does all those things in spades.”