More than 102,000 babies are born in New Jersey every year – and each of them has a compelling need to feel safe. “Creating Safety For and Within Infants and Children” was the theme of the Eighth Annual Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation Conference hosted on May 9 by the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health (CAECMH) in the College of Education and Human Services at Montclair State University.
“Feeling safe is a critical need for all infants and children, and few will deny that the world and parents feel less safe in these times – and this finds its way into the souls of children,” says CAECMH Director and Department of Teaching and Learning Professor Gerard Costa. “This is especially true when difficulties arise in the lives of families that cause parents to struggle to adequately provide safety and peace for their children.”
New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer delivered the daylong conference’s opening remarks that touched on this critical theme. She thanked attendees for supporting children at the earliest stages of their development and for all that they do to increase the collective understanding of autism spectrum disorders and infant and early childhood mental health.
“Your work is so very vital, given New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation prevalence of autism, where an alarming 1 in 34 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder,” said Norbut Beyer. “The support and care provided by the organization here and others throughout New Jersey are crucial to help families navigate the system and identify effective supports and services. Organizations like the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health here at Montclair are on the front lines of unlocking the secrets to early childhood development, and supporting families on their mental health and developmental journeys.”
Other principal luminary speakers included Sheila Marcus from the University of Michigan, David Armstrong, a state Parent Leader and advocate, and CAECMH Associate Director Kaitlin Mulcahy.
At age 25, Todd Ouida’s life was cut short when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11. His father, Herb Ouida, who was VP/Corporate Counsel for the World Trade Center on the 77th floor, survived the attack.
Todd’s parents, Herb and Andrea Ouida, founded the Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation as a legacy to his life, with a mission of supporting children’s mental health. The Ouidas, who have supported the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health from its beginning, presented the 2019 Todd Ouida Children’s Hero Award to Mary Ann Uzzi and Cynthia Chazen of the Stigma Free Initiative.
CAECMH Socio-Emotional Formation Initiative (SEFI) consultant Charles R. Matteis, retired director of Organizational Development at Montclair State, was this year’s recipient of the CAECMH Roots and Wings Award, which recognized his exceptional level of dedication and service to the emotional well-being of infants, children and their families.
“Our Center is rooted in the critical importance of the earliest relationships and the nature of human attachment,” explains Costa. “This year’s Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation Conference was an expression of our abiding commitment to the emotional health and well-being of infants, children and their families.”
The conference was co-sponsored by: Children’s Aid and Family Services; Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning; New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health; Northeast Regional Terrorism and Disaster Coalition; West Bergen Mental Healthcare; and Youth Consultation Service.