Kristina Halmai is a YMCA staff member who holds the unique role of Clinical Innovation Consultant with the YMCA of San Diego County, Youth & Family Services (YFS) branch. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who brings her expertise to YFS programs so our youth and young adults increase their mental and emotional health for overall well-being. She was recently invited to attend a roundtable session with the federal Children’s Bureau and the Office of Planning Research and Evaluation agencies to discuss youth development programs. Read on below to learn more about her experience!

The Y: Can you tell us about what you were doing in our nation’s capital?

Kristina Halmai: I had the honor of being invited by the Children’s Bureau and the Office of Planning Research and Evaluation (OPRE) to join experts and stakeholders in conversation about self-regulation and co-regulation as applied in Child Welfare systems. Self-regulation is mainly about how we control our thoughts, behaviors and emotions, and co-regulation is about how we utilize supportive relationships with supportive figures to regulate our thoughts, behaviors and emotions in our lives.  I joined 20 other experts in Washington, D.C., for a packed day of thought-provoking conversation focused on how Child Welfare Systems can help foster caregivers and supportive adults contribute to the positive development of teens and young adults. The group also included representatives from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) and National Center for Education Research (NCER). Conversation also focused on promising new directions for the topic and gaps in research. We were also fortunate to have Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner for the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, pop in and talk with us about shifting foster care from corrective intervention towards prevention and support for families. 

The Y: Sounds exciting! How did you get involved in this opportunity?

KH: In 2011, YFS was awarded a federal grant to provide services that improve outcomes for current and former foster youth. With that project, YMCA Connections, we unknowingly planted the seed to become leaders in relationally focused programming for transition age young adults. At the time, there was little attention being paid to soft skills, such as the interpersonal relationships and interactions that we considered relational competencies, so it positioned the YMCA of San Diego County to become leaders in this emerging practice. Our passion, diligence, and willingness to work from a neuro-informed, relational-perspective is recognized by folks around the country and sustains our ongoing work to elevate the importance of relationships and social capital. With all of this as our backdrop, I enthusiastically accepted a seat at the table!

The Y: How will your involvement in this event impact our work?

KH: Our participation in high-level conversations like these further roots YFS in our use of emerging research and well-established practices to innovate programming in order to best serve all of our participants. We are steadfastly committed to their positive growth and wellness. The conversation also connected us to new thought and practice partners who shared information which inspires me to pause and consider the application of the ideas discussed today, namely co-regulation as an explicit practice. It is reassuring knowing that there are other folks scattered across this country who are committed to the same relational thinking. It’s hard to say with certainty where things will lead to, but I’m confident that new opportunities will undoubtedly reveal themselves.

The Y: How will your involvement in this event impact our participants?

KH: Moving forward, we will consider our current use of co-regulation and how best to broaden the practice. Our reflection will involve our dedicated YFS management staff and of course feedback from our participants. For example, how might we work with our participants and their peer networks to support existing co-regulation that is inherent to relationships but that might not be explicit. Meaning, how can we bring awareness to the role that friendships play in co-regulation exchanges and how can we describe those exchanges with stronger intention?

The Y: What was the most interesting thing you learned?

KH: I had the pleasure of sitting next to Junlei Li, Saul Zaentz Senior Lecturer in Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. We had a brief break-time chat about his work and how “relationships” are often thought of as emotional exchanges and how that single interpretation can be limiting. I left the meeting with a lingering thought of the various relationships we engage in (short-term vs. long-term, emotional vs. transactional etc.) and I started to ponder and expand my own views. I will also be tracking down his research on simple interactions!

The Y: Any final thoughts on the experience?

KH: My brain is still trying to process the information from the day, but one thing is certain: I’m relieved to know that YFS is in good relational-work-company, and that we’re recognized for our efforts. I look forward to learning more about ongoing work that is being done on co-regulation, translating research to practice, shifting frameworks from negative teen narratives to positive teen narratives, and work to move the foster care system toward a more holistic view of supporting children and families. I’m grateful for this opportunity and that I saw the beautiful cherry blossoms of Washington D.C.!

For information about the impact of relationships on well-being and the Connections projects, contact Kristina Halmai at [email protected]