Outstanding psychologist recognized as a tireless advocate for children’s mental health

Dr. Cathleen “Cassie” Yackley of Bradford has been selected by the New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation as the 2023 recipient of the Sandi Van Scoyoc Legacy Award.

A psychologist, Dr. Yackley has been a champion for children’s mental health for decades. When she first moved to the New Hampshire she began practice in community mental health and spent more than ten years working with children and families who were underserved and had the most severe and intense mental health needs.

While working in community mental health, she became trained in Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) and ran the consultation group at the community mental health center. This ignited a lifelong passion for CPP as an evidence-based practice.

She next began work with Dartmouth Trauma Interventions Research Center. Her work as the administrative director of a five-year project with the NH Division of Children Youth and Families included training and instituting universal screening for trauma and youth mental health throughout every DCYF district office and earned her recognition with the NH DCYF Director’s award

In 2020 Dr. Yackley began a nonprofit organization, the Center for Trauma Responsive Practice Change, and has worked with partners all over the state of New Hampshire on training in CPP and trauma-informed care and practices.

“We are so impressed by Dr. Yackley’s work, and are absolutely delighted to bestow our award on someone who has made such an important contribution to expanding the capacity and expertise of the children’s mental health workforce in our state,” said New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation President Gail Garceau.

Child-Parent Psychotherapy

Child-Parent Psychotherapy is an intervention model for children aged 0-5 who have experienced traumatic events and/or are experiencing mental health, attachment, and/or behavioral problems.

Its central goal is to support and strengthen the caregiver-child relationship as a vehicle for restoring and protecting the child’s mental health. Treatment also focuses on contextual factors that may affect the caregiver-child relationship (e.g., cultural norms and socioeconomic and immigration-related stressors).

It’s a nationally recognized, evidence-based intervention model for children who have experienced at least one traumatic event and is the only indicated treatment for children under age six in New Hampshire. What separates it from other family or behavioral therapies is that it requires significant involvement by parents or caregivers.

Rather than seeking to simply modify behavior through rewards or other modification techniques, Child-Parent Psychotherapy first works with caregivers to understand the “story” behind the child’s behavior and then helps them work with the child to also understand that story and to begin to heal by creating a new one.

What a parent or caregiver often discovers in working with a CPP therapist is that the “story” did not begin with their child. It’s often a story that they experienced themselves. One which may have been repeated cyclically in their family for generations, and one from which they can also heal. Child-Parent Psychotherapy has been supported by the New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation, which has funded the training of several cohorts of practitioners by Dr. Yackley.

A tireless advocate

Dr. Yackley was nominated for the award by Becky Parton, MSW, LICSW, Project Director at the Dartmouth Trauma Interventions Research Center who noted that Yackley has worked with great determination to obtain funding to continue to provide Child Parent Psychotherapy training at no cost to trainees and agencies throughout New Hampshire.

She has trained police departments, schools, early childhood providers, residential providers, mental health clinicians across settings, child welfare, juvenile justice and countless other community members. As her nomination noted, “Dr. Yackley’s name is synonymous with CPP and trauma in New Hampshire.”

Yackley was successful in getting CPP to be part of the formal continuum of services offered for families involved with the Division of Children Youth and Families. It is one of the few interventions that the Bureau for Children’s Behavioral Health fully supports, and one of the only ones for young children.

Dr. Yackley has trained 147 new CPP clinicians in the state, including clinicians at all community mental health centers. Since 2017, the NH CPP Provider Network has recorded about 600 children who have participated in Child Parent Psychotherapy.

Not one to rest on her laurels, in March Dr. Yackley launched an 18-month CPP training cohort with 50 participants from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. Its focus is using reflective practice to address racial and social justice within the context of CPP intervention and how to best implement Child-Parent Psychotherapy within communities which have been historically marginalized because of their identities.

Deeply committed

The New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation is one of the leading funders for children’s health in the state. The award is named for and presented annually in honor of its founding president, Sandi Van Scoyoc. It recognizes a New Hampshire an individual who works for a non-profit organization or a not-for-profit organization, that demonstrates exemplary and aspirational commitment or innovation toward improving the health of New Hampshire’s children and families.

“Cassie is at the forefront of leadership in many domains involving trauma-informed care in New Hampshire,” said two of her colleagues at the Center for Trauma Responsive Practice Change in their letter in support of her nomination.

“She is deeply committed to young children and their families, to the CPP community in New Hampshire, to the funders who have provided ongoing support and to the future of CPP. She is an outstanding psychologist devoted to excellence and the highest standards.”

In recognition of her work, Gail Garceau presented Dr. Yackley an award from the Foundation in the amount of $2,500 at a gathering of her colleagues this month.