1. Suzuki, Melissa
  2. Grypma, Sonya

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I [Melissa] got my start as a nurse early in life. For me, grade one was the start of my nursing career. My school year book from that grade confirms that I wanted to be a nurse when I grew up. That same year, my parents made the decision to adopt my sister who had suffered from traumatic abuse and a family history of mental illness and substance use. My parents also adopted her biological little brother. My parents demonstrated their belief that God loves and cares for children, especially those who are disadvantaged. Years later as a young adult and new nurse, I made the choice to follow in the footsteps of my parents by working in the field of child and youth mental health.


When I became a graduate student, I wanted to more fully understand the history of mental health services for children and youth. My search introduced me to Josephine Kilburn, a nurse, social worker, leader, and educator in the field of children and youth mental health in the 1930s in British Columbia, Canada (Suzuki, 2013). Reading through 20 years of her yearly reports gave me a sense of the tremendous value of nurses who care for children and youth struggling with mental health issues or who are at risk. Kilburn was ahead of her time in her ideas about mental illness. In an era where eugenicist views, including sterilization and colonization, were common regarding mental illness and intellectual disability, Kilburn saw that children were profoundly influenced by their experiences at home and in school. Kilburn was significant in influencing the social construction of mental illness through her engagement with schools, parents, and her community. As a nurse educator, I am inspired by the work she accomplished.


Kilburn understood that working with children and families was the best way to prevent future mental health issues. She believed setting aside power differences and building partnerships with families at risk was one way she could support the development of children. Kilburn worked to help families make adjustments in their parenting, helped parents understand some of their children's internal processes, and helped families who were negatively impacted by the social context of the Great Depression and WWII. She believed that working with children offered the most hope to change people's lives. She was able to change the outcome of children's lives because of her work.


Nurses today can positively influence the impact of early childhood experiences. Nurses have unique opportunities to assess, intervene, and make recommendations for child and family well-being. Nurses who work to support women before, during, and after childbirth can make important interventions in their lives and the lives of their children. Public health nurses and nurse practitioners may have interactions with children and families for immunizations and infectious diseases. Pediatric nurses have the opportunity to work with children who are impacted by serious illness. Nurses in mental health areas know that concerns such as depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and psychosis can be impacted by childhood experiences and can work to help patients with coping skills, helping them move toward healing.


When I think back to my choice to become a nurse when I was in first grade, I cannot help but recall how my early childhood experiences helped shape the woman and nurse I am today. Jesus states, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me" (Matthew 18:3-5, NIV). I believe God desires us to care for children who are at risk. I am thankful for my nursing work with children and youth. When we have the opportunity to make a change for a child, we have the opportunity to change a person's whole life.


Suzuki M. J. (2013). The Kilburn connection: Public health nursing education and the child guidance clinics in British Columbia 1932-1950. Unpublished master's thesis. Langley, BC, Canada: Trinity Western University. [Context Link]