Meet the Harris Faculty

Decades of Combined Early Childhood Expertise

 

The Harris Institute faculty is recognized for its expertise in infant and early childhood mental health, bringing a wealth of academic, training and direct practice experience to the Institute.

Alison Steier, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and vice president of mental health services at Southwest Human Development. She is director of Southwest’s Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute, the statewide toll-free Birth to Five Helpline and its “Fussy Baby” home visiting service as well as Arizona’s system of early childhood mental health consultation, known as Smart Support. Dr. Steier earned her doctoral degree from George Mason University. She received advanced training in psychotherapy from Georgetown University, completed a pre-doctoral fellowship in clinical psychology at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital and was a visiting fellow at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. She holds a fellowship in infant mental health from Louisiana State University Medical Center and a postdoctoral degree in infant mental health from Tulane University Medical Center. Dr. Steier is the founder and co-chair of The RAINE Group, a think tank comprised of national experts which works to advance practice, policy and research in the specialty of early childhood mental health consultation. She is a national trainer for the FAN Approach (Facilitating Attuned Interactions) and the Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work with Infants, Children and Families. She is a frequent presenter on topics related to infant mental health, both nationally and internationally, and has published in the areas of early childhood mental health consultation and young children’s attachments to special inanimate objects (“transitional objects”).

Natasha Byars, MS, MSW, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker, a ZERO TO THREE Academy Fellow, and serves as faculty for the Harris program. She oversees the Professional Development Institute (PDI) at Educare Arizona, an innovative SWHD effort that seeks to address gaps and foster partnerships to provide high-quality early childhood education professional development and coaching across the state, ultimately leading to better, more equitable child outcomes. Prior to moving to Phoenix, Ms. Byars led the Massachusetts Young Children’s System of Care Project at Boston Public Health Commission, collaborating across the state to integrate infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) teams into primary care and support IECMH professional development and capacity building in communities and systems. She was a Project LAUNCH clinician and Department of Psychiatry Social Work Fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital, has consulted on international social emotional learning curriculum development, and worked in an Indigenous village preschool in Chiapas, Mexico. Ms. Byars earned a master’s degree in child development from Erikson Institute and a master’s of social work from Loyola University Chicago. She holds the principles of inclusion, representation, and honoring families as central to her work.

A. Cristina Fernandez, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and a faculty member for the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute. Dr. Fernandez began working at Southwest Human Development for the Good Fit Counseling Center in 2007 after she completed her doctorate degree at Arizona State University. Prior to working at Southwest Human Development, Dr. Fernandez focused her research and clinical work on adolescence and cultural influences in development and family relationships. Following her graduation, Dr. Fernandez switched her clinical focus to the birth to five population in order to focus on intervention in the early years to prevent mental health problems. At the Good Fit Counseling Center, where she worked until 2020, Dr. Fernandez provided in-home, relationship-based, bilingual counseling services to children birth to five and their families whose challenges included sleeping and eating difficulties, developmental delays, tantrums, and trauma. Services also focused on comprehensive support of families through case management and coordination of care with a child’s other providers. From 2010-2016, Dr. Fernandez provided mental health consultation to the City of Phoenix home-based Early Head Start program. Dr. Fernandez completed the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute in 2008-2010 and obtained the Clinical Practice Certificate.

Laura Jesmer, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice and serves as faculty for the Harris program. She works with adults with a focus on trauma healing. She is an EMDR Certified Therapist (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is an evidence based therapy technique that helps people reprocess recent or past events in order to alleviate current symptoms, triggers, and distress from troubling memories. She works with clients to address intergenerational and developmental trauma that impacts their current relationships with their children, families, and experiences in the community. Ms. Jesmer also has extensive experience in Attachment based, Psychodynamic, Mindfulness and Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapies that support client growth and goals for therapy. Prior to moving into full time private practice, Ms. Jesmer worked at Arizona State University’s Counseling Services department from 2000-2012. She served as the Practicum Coordinator for the center’s counselor training program followed by serving in the Clinical Director role. Ms. Jesmer supervised Master’s and Doctorate level interns and a staff of counselors and psychologists who provided services to the university’s diverse student population. She coordinated mental health crisis response on campus in partnership with university police and administration. Ms. Jesmer completed her graduate work with an MSW from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, after which she worked in community mental health with children and families in Illinois and in Arizona.

Maria Lopez, LMSW, is a supervisor within the Smart Support Program at Southwest Human Development and she is a faculty member for the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute. Maria supervises a team of Mental Health Consultants, who provide support to providers within preschool and early childcare settings and promote optimal social and emotional well-being for young children. She also provides mental health consultation to home visitation teams at community agencies. Maria has been with Southwest Human Development since the advent of the Smart Support Program in 2010 and initially worked as a consultant before moving into a supervisory role. She completed the two-year Infant/Family Clinical Practice program with the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute in 2019 and joined the Harris faculty later that same year. Prior to her time at Southwest Human Development, Maria provided therapy to adults and children within community mental health settings in Ohio after receiving her MSW from Cleveland State University.

Molly Strothkamp, MSW, LCSW, IMH-E®, is a child therapist and the training coordinator at Southwest Human Development’s Good Fit Counseling Center and she is a faculty member for the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute. Molly specializes in providing relationship-based counseling to young children and their caregivers. Molly started her career at Southwest Human Development in 1999 as a family support specialist in the Healthy Families program and as a developmental specialist in SWHD’s Early Intervention program. Molly earned her MSW from Arizona State University in 2006 and she has been a therapist at the Good Fit Counseling Center since 2006. Molly completed the two-year Infant/Family Clinical Practice program with the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute in 2007 and she joined the Harris faculty in 2012. In addition to her work at the Good Fit Counseling Center and her work with the Harris Institute, Molly provides mental health consultation to home visiting programs within SWHD and other community organizations. She also teaches and provides trainings on infant mental health, attachment, trauma and trauma-informed care, child development, home visitation, expulsion prevention, and other related topics to parents, professionals, and community organizations statewide. Molly is endorsed by the Infant Toddler Mental Health Coalition of Arizona as an Infant Mental Health Specialist (Level 3 Clinical). In 2016, she completed training to become rostered in Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP). Molly served on the board of the Infant Toddler Mental Health Coalition of Arizona from 2017-2018.

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