Giving Compass' Take:

• This report from Zero to Three analyzes the impacts of early childhood mental health consultation and found gains for children, staff, parents, and families. 

 What programs are currently available for young children in your area?  How can philanthropy help to increase access to programs like this?

• Learn about the mental health challenges of rural children

Healthy social-emotional development in young children paves the way for mental health in adulthood. However, Walter Gilliam’s 2005 research dramatically showed that many young children were not developing these competencies. In fact, Gilliam showed that preschoolers were being expelled or suspended from their early childhood setting at an alarming rate (Gilliam, 2005). Equipped with this information, states have begun looking for new and innovative ways to reverse this trend. Early childhood mental health consultation (ECMHC) is emerging as an effective strategy to help young children and their families increase social and emotional health while decreasing challenging behavior (Duran et al., 2009). This paper provides an overview of ECMHC, current issues, and possible future directions.

ECMHC is a preventative intervention that places ECMH consultants in early childhood settings to build social-emotional competence in programs and classrooms. Consultants also partner with families to address a child’s individual needs and/or provide information, training, and resources to all families. According to Cohen and Kaufmann (2005),”Early childhood mental health consultation aims to build the capacity (improve the ability) of staff, families, programs, and systems to prevent, identify, treat, and reduce the impact of mental health problems among children from birth to age 6 and their families” (p. 15). This indirect approach of building capacity of a young child’s caregivers and families is a departure from traditional one-on-one therapeutic mental health services. The consultation services are voluntary and offered at no cost to the program or to the family. The delivery of services can be child-focused, classroom-focused, or program-focused consultation.

Child Outcomes

  • Decreased problem behaviors, especially externalizing ones
  • Decreased numbers of children expelled for behavior
  • Greater gains in socialization, emotional competence, and communication
  • Improved social skills and peer relationships

Staff Outcomes

  • Improved self-efficacy for staff
  • Increased confidence working with children
  • Reduction in teacher stress levels
  • Increased teaching skills and communication with families
  • Increased sensitivity when working with children
  • Increased involvement with parents

Program Outcomes

  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Increased shared philosophy of mental health (when consultants were seen as a partner)
  • Inconsistent findings on improved classroom environments

Family Outcomes (fewer studies included measures of family outcomes)

  • Increased access to mental health services
  • Improved communication with staff
  • Improved parenting skills
  • Inconsistent findings on parenting stress