WHAT IS INFANT AND EARLY CHILDHOOD MENTAL HEALTH

Mental health in infancy and early childhood means healthy social and emotional development, secure and nurturing relationships, and caring, supportive communities.

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

According to the ZERO TO THREE Infant Mental Health Task Force, Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health is the developing capacity of the child from birth to age 3 to:


• experience, regulate, and express emotions
• form close and secure interpersonal relationships, and
• explore the environment and learn 

All in the context of family, community, and cultural expectations for young children.

As a field, infant and early childhood mental health is an interdisciplinary approach to research, practice, and public policy concerned with maximizing the well-being of infants, young children, and their caregivers through promotion, early identification, preventive intervention, treatment, and support.

ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES

The early years of life matter because the basic architecture of the human brain is constructed through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood.

The Truth About Adverse Childhood Experiences

First 5 Alabama is dedicated to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to develop intellectually, socially, and emotionally. The future prosperity of any society depends on its ability to foster the health and well-being of the next generation. When Alabama invests wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship.

The early years of life matter because the basic architecture of the human brain is constructed through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood. Like the construction of a home, the building process begins with laying the foundation, framing the rooms, and wiring the electrical system in a predictable sequence.

 

Early experiences literally shape how the brain gets built, establishing either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the development and behavior that follows. A strong foundation in the early years increases the probability of positive outcomes. A weak foundation increases the odds of later difficulties.


Recent science demonstrates that many children’s futures are undermined when stress damages the early developing architecture of the brain. We now know that “toxic stress” in early childhood is associated with adverse childhood experiences, such as poverty, neglect, abuse, or severe maternal depression and damages the developing brain.


Science tells us that many children’s futures are undermined when stress damages the early brain architecture. But the good news is that potentially toxic stressors can be made tolerable if children have access to stable, responsive adults – home visitors, child care providers, teachers, coaches, and mentors. The presence of good serve-and-return acts as a physical buffer that lessens the biological impact of severe stress.

All children need someone in their corner. The shift from “What is wrong with you, or why are you a problem?” to “What has happened to you, and how we can we support you and help you overcome these experiences?” will result in a more effective, more empathetic service delivery system and a stronger Alabama.

First 5 Alabama is a Member Organization of
The Alliance is a global organization that includes multiple states and international associations whose infant mental health associations have licensed the use of the Competency Guidelines® and Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-Focused Practice Promoting Infant Mental Health® under their associations’ names.
The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 
©2019 by First 5 Alabama.