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It’s National Mental Health Awareness Month

May 15, 2017

Good mental health enables us to learn, to feel, to express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions, and to form and maintain good relationships. Clearly, it’s important at every stage of life. However, good mental health is especially important during early childhood, because it’s an essential foundation for early learning and development. Therefore, preventing mental health challenges among children and their caregivers is essential to promoting not only children’s social-emotional well-being but also their school readiness.

NCCP has long been a leader in promoting children’s mental health, beginning with the pioneering work of Jane Knitzer, the center’s former director.  Dr. Knitzer authored the groundbreaking policy report Unclaimed Children: The Failure of Public Responsibility to Children and Adolescents in Need of Mental Health Services, which was followed by Unclaimed Children Revisited: The Status of Children’s Mental Health Policy in the United States. Over the years, extensive research conducted by NCCP and others has shown us that investments in the promotion of good mental health among children and those responsible for their care have the potential to benefit not just families and communities, but the nation as a whole. It’s essential that the lessons learned are widely disseminated to the range of stakeholders who have the power to take action on behalf of our children.

An increasing number of policymakers are recognizing that young children’s mental health provides a critical foundation for early learning and positive life outcomes.  In several states, young children are benefiting from policies that have expanded infant and early childhood mental health consultations in child care and home visiting settings; maternal depression screening and treatment; and interventions that help parents support children’s social-emotional development. Mental Health Awareness Month reminds us not only that progress has been made in helping children receive the mental health care they deserve but also that much work remains to be done before a continuum of early childhood supports are in place in every state to help all young children thrive.

The publications below are a sampling of NCCP’s work in this area and a demonstration of our continued commitment to lifting up a range of effective policies, programs, and strategies that support child mental health. We hope you’ll share these resources with your networks.

Renée Wilson Simmons, DrPH
Director, National Center for Children in Poverty

Using Medicaid to Help Young Children and Parents Access Mental Health Services examines states’ use of Medicaid as a key source of funding for early childhood mental health services. It presents the results of a 50-state survey that gathered information from state administrators about Medicaid coverage and related policies concerning services for children from birth to age 6.

Despite the multitude of challenges that poor parents face, many succeed in helping their children flourish. Strong at the Broken Places; The Resiliency of Low-Income Parents examines survey data from more than 2,200 school-age children to find common attributes among parents who are able to function well when faced with challenges, and the parenting style most closely associated with positive social and developmental behavior in children — no matter the family’s economic circumstances.

Almost half of children in the United States—approximately 35 million—have experienced some form of trauma, and young children are at especially high risk. In Helping Young Children Who Have Experienced Trauma Policies and Strategies for Early Care and Education, we describe early childhood trauma and its effects, offer promising strategies for early learning programs and systems to help young children who have experienced trauma, and present recommendations for state policymakers and other stakeholders looking to support trauma-informed learning options for this vulnerable group.

The U.S. government invests less in children under the age of five than do most other developed nations. However, reducing educational and economic inequalities requires that all children have robust opportunities to learn, fully develop their capacities, and have a fair shot at success. As guests for the NCCP Online Book Club Discussion in April, Cradle to Kindergarten authors Ajay Chaudry, Taryn Morrissey, Christina Weiland and Hirokazu Yoshikawa discussed their blueprint for fulfilling this promise by expanding access to educational and financial resources at a critical stage of child development. Audio from that thought-provoking discussion is now available online.

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