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. 1The 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.
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
and the teachers who educate and nurture our youngest.
Written by Kayli Watson, Spring 2019 Communications Intern from UNC Chapel Hill
Health experts have always stressed eating healthy and being active. Instilling these values at an early age can be the first steps for a longer, healthier life for children. Children enrolled in child care may consume between 50 percent and 100 percent of their Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) while in care. Child care programs have a chance to provide the foundation for a healthy life, in terms of food consumption and levels of activity. Child Care Services Association (CCSA) has worked to create programs to help early care centers in multiple ways, including healthy eating and active play.
CCSA implemented Shape NC to increase the number of children starting kindergarten at a healthy weight. The project promotes healthy eating and active play for children from birth-5 years old by working with child care programs to instill healthy behaviors and create a solid foundation for a healthy life. Shape NC integrates multiple research-based models to provide an in-depth approach to childhood obesity prevention. It combines evidence-based programs to create a comprehensive approach in partnership with the following statewide programs: Be Active Kids®, Preventing Obesity by Design and the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self Assessment for Child Care (Go NAP SACC).
Little Engine Academy in Durham, N.C.
Like other centers, Little Engine Academy benefits from several of CCSA’s programs, including Shape NC. Kathy Smith, the center’s owner, shared how she became involved in early childhood education and created Little Engine Academy. “It was something I always wanted to do,” Smith said, “The previous owners contacted me to say that they were closing and to see if I was interested, and I jumped on the bandwagon thinking it would probably take a month to open. It actually took about three months.” While Kathy has been managing Little Engine Academy since November 2008, the center has only been involved in Shape NC for a year.
Little Engine Academy is also working to add more healthy meals to their menus through various programs. “We like to talk to the kids about what they eat, explain where the food came from and why they should be eating it,” Smith said.
Outdoor Learning Environment
For Smith and the children at Little Engine Academy, one of the most exciting aspects of Shape NC is re-building their outdoor learning environment. “We’re part of the natural learning initiative,” Smith explained, “We’re super excited! That’s one of the things about being part of Shape NC [that is exciting as it] is helping us get to have what is called an outdoor learning environment versus a playground.”
The outdoor area is a space for children to strengthen their cognitive, social and emotional development through playing games with other kids in an environment in which they can explore and learn. Additionally, outdoor play helps kids’ physical fitness as well as sensory skills. Little Engine Academy is excited to create an area for their kids to not only learn and explore but garden and learn exactly how food is grown. Now in its second year, Shape NC will help create these spaces for child care centers through funding and fundraising opportunities in its third year.
CCSA’s Other Resources for Little Engine Academy
Shape NC is not the only resource Little Engine Academy has used from CCSA. Chenille Coston, a teacher at Little Engine Academy, is also participating in a T.E.A.C.H. NC Early Childhood Scholarship as she works to obtain her master’s degree. There also employees who have received wage supplements from the Child Care WAGE$®️ Program. Both Coston and Smith talk about the value of professional development opportunities they have attended. “For me, it’s been really awesome. It’s always good to learn more and they provide a lot of new information for us,” Smith said, “We’ve actually incorporated a lot of things they’ve given us.”
“The trainings [have] provided new strategies that we’ve been able to use in the classroom,” Coston said as she explained a recent strategy they have incorporated to teach the kids movement. The center also participates in CCSA child care scholarships that make attending Little Engine Academy more affordable for parents.
The Future at Little Engine Academy with Shape NC
Parents will continue to be more involved with Little Engine Academy as the school gets closer to its third year of participating in Shape NC. Little Engine Academy is looking for volunteers to help remove playground equipment to make room for the new outdoor learning environment, which they will start fundraising for this summer.
If you’re interested in volunteering with Little Engine Academy to remove their playground equipment contact Jennifer Gioia at 919-967-3272.
CCSA is hosting Shape NC activities this Earth Day Festival Sunday, April 28 from 12 – 5 p.m. at theDurham City Earth Day Festival. Stop by Durham Central Park, 501 Foster St. to enjoy all day performances and tons of fun activities. Learn more here.
Learn more about Shape NC here or call us at 919-967-3272 for more information about the program.
To support the Shape NC project, click here and DONATE
Your gift to fund Shape NC workshops and events in Durham, N.C. will be matched
100% through a Social Innovation Fund Grant.