Why should we pay attention?
In Minnesota and across the U.S., there is a rising number of young children who have mental health issues. Their needs are becoming apparent through challenging behaviors in school and child care situations, and their families are often finding that educational and human services systems are inadequately prepared to provide necessary supports and services.
The goal of ensuring that all children are “ready for school” has become a national priority. As a result, programs that support children’s school readiness are becoming more and more important to policy makers and parents alike. It is becoming very clear that efforts to improve school success cannot begin at kindergarten, nor focus exclusively on academics.
Healthy social-emotional development is strongly linked to success in elementary school. It is just as important as literacy, language and number skills in helping young children be ready for school. A child who cannot calm himself or be calmed enough to tune into teaching will not benefit from early educational experiences. The emotional, social and behavioral competence of young children is a strong predictor of academic performance in elementary school.
What are Early Childhood Mental Health Services?
Since the very young child’s development occurs within the context of their family and other primary relationships, mental health services are provided within the context of these relationships. Mental health services are provided in a collaborative manner with the parents, establishing a trusting relationship by listening and learning from each other as they all seek to provide what is best for the child (Minnesota Infant Mental Health Services Feasibility Study, 1998). The goal of early childhood mental health services is to strengthen the relationships between the parent and child. A mental health service provider works to draw the child and parent together by being a support to the parent and providing a voice for the child.
Early childhood mental health services are multidimensional and include providing emotional support for the parent and child; access to concrete resources such as food, clothing, transportation and housing; and developmental guidance in order to allow the parent to understand their child’s needs and development.