Blog

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Millions of Americans live with mental illness. With May just passing as National Mental Health Awareness Month, it is important to recognize that prevention and early intervention are the solutions to a healthier, happier life. 1 The National Alliance on Mental Illness records 1 in 5 (46.6 million) U.S. adults experience mental illness at least once in their lifetime, and “half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 25, but early intervention programs can help.” 2

One dependable way to intervene and prevent mental illness is recognizing it as early as possible, since even infants and young children can have mental and developmental disorders. 3 Healthy social and emotional development is the foundation for brain development in young children, and high-quality early care and education is a large piece of that development.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) works to build solid foundations for the development of our youngest children by ensuring all children have access to high-quality early care and education and that their teachers are educated and qualified. To ensure accessibility and affordability for all children, CCSA offers free child care referral services and scholarships for parents. CCSA also maintains teachers are educated and stable through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Scholarship program, and the Child Care WAGE$ and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ compensation programs.

With this high-quality child care and education, infants and toddlers, “who engage with responsive, consistent and nurturing caregivers, are more likely to have strong emotional health throughout life.” 3 Supports such as T.E.A.C.H., WAGE$ and AWARD$ help child care teachers further their education and receive additional compensation, allowing them to continue teaching and caring for our youngest children.

While having happy, educated and stable teachers improves the quality of care and education a child receives, child care can still be unaffordable for parents, especially if they have more than one child in need of care. CCSA’s free child care referral services simplify the child care search, helping parents focus on what’s truly important for their specific child’s needs without worrying about another expense. “Ensuring all families have access to affordable, high-quality child care can help mitigate some of the impacts of poverty and prepare children for success in school and beyond.” 4

However, even with affordable and positive early childhood experiences and stable educators, mental health and developmental delays can be seen as early as infancy. 3 “Children can show clear characteristics of anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism, at a very early age. That said, young children respond to and process emotional experiences and traumatic events in ways that are very different from adults and older children. Consequently, diagnosis in early childhood can be much more difficult than it is in adults.” 5

It is important to identify and treat mental health disorders as early as possible to reduce impairment, suffering and effects on overall health and development. 3 However, it can be difficult to identify mental health illness in young children, and parents may turn to their child’s doctors or teachers for guidance. “If properly identified using diagnostic criteria relevant to infant and early childhood development and experiences, many of these challenges can be effectively treated.” 3

“It is clear that state agencies [also] must attend to the mental health needs of infants and young children if they want to improve health and developmental outcomes, prevent impairment due to early adversity, provide trauma-informed care, and ultimately, see better returns on investment. Adopting an age-appropriate diagnosis and treatment is a significant step toward assuring better overall health for infants, young children, and their families” 3 and the teachers who educate and nurture our youngest.

Sources:
(1) https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Awareness-Messaging
(2) http://www.ncimha.org/
(3) A. Szekley, C. Oser, J. Cohen, T. Ahlers. ZERO TO THREE. Advancing Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: The Integration of DC:0-5TM Into State Policy and Systems. July 31, 2018.
(4) https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/11/15/460970/understanding-true-cost-child-care-infants-toddlers/
(5) https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/mental-health/

Marsha Basloe, President of Child Care Services Association

Homelessness is a reality for many families with young children in our country. In fact, infancy is the period of life when a person is at highest risk of living in a homeless shelter in the U.S. And families with younger parents are at higher risk of experiencing sheltered homelessness than families with relatively older parents. Adults between the ages of 18 and 30 in families with children were three times more likely to use shelter programs than adults over 30 who live with children (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2016 AHAR Part 2).

As president of Child Care Services Association (CCSA), I am committed to ensuring that all our young children have high quality early care and education experiences. CCSA works to ensure affordable, accessible, high quality child care for all families through research, services and advocacy. We provide free referral services to families seeking child care, financial assistance to families who cannot afford quality child care, technical assistance to child care businesses, and educational scholarships and salary supplements to child care professionals through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® and Child Care WAGE$® Projects.

More and more people understand that high quality early childhood care and learning prepares children to succeed in the classroom and in life. Yet, what may not be known is that the impact of homelessness on children, especially young children, is extremely challenging and may lead to changes in brain architecture that can interfere with learning, social-emotional development, self-regulation and cognitive skills. In today’s world, children should be healthy, alert and motivated to have a better chance of leading productive lives. Not every child, however, has that chance.

Last week, Chapin Hall released Missed Opportunities: Pregnant and Parenting Youth Experiencing Homelessness in America. This third Research-to-Impact brief by Chapin Hall presents findings related to the experiences of young people who are pregnant or parenting and don’t have a stable place to live. They learned that rates of pregnancy and parenthood are high among youth experiencing homelessness, and that many of the young parents are homeless with their children. For pregnant and parenting youth who are homeless, the difficulties of coping with pregnancy and parenthood are compounded by the trauma they have experienced and the ongoing stress of not having a safe or stable place to live with their children.

We know that experiences of homelessness in early childhood are associated with poor early development and educational well-being. These experiences during infancy and toddlerhood are associated with poor academic achievement and engagement in elementary school (Perlman & Fantuzzo, 2010). Additionally, experiences of homelessness are associated with social emotional delays among young children (Haskett, et. al, 2015) and poor classroom-based social skills in elementary school (Brumley, Fantuzzo, Perlman, & Zager, 2015). These findings underscore the importance of ensuring that young children and their young parents who are experiencing homelessness have access to support that is critical to improving the long-term educational outcomes of children nationwide.

Karen McKnight, director of our NC Head Start Collaboration Office, coordinated a statewide Trauma in Early Childhood Education Workgroup, and I feel fortunate to be part of this effort. Promoting early childhood development and buffering stress experienced by young children experiencing homelessness and their families will be part of this work. This group of professionals from Head Start, Smart Start, CCR&R, PCANC, NCAEYC, NCIMHA and others will be attending a two-day on-campus program, facilitated by Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie Jones, faculty directors of the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The training is guided by the question: How can early education leaders support the design and implementation of strong early learning environments, particularly in settings serving children facing adversity?

I hope we can all work together to have an early childhood workforce to meet the social-emotional and mental health needs of all our young children and their families. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. How are you supporting this work?

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