A Commitment to Supporting the Mental Health of Our Youngest Children

Publication Date: October 23, 2000


In recent years the country has paid increased attention to the human suffering and underused potential caused by mental illness. As the stigma of mental illness has begun to fade we are also paying increased attention to the problems faced by children and youth, although most discussions have focused on school age children. Today we have new theoretical, practical and empirical knowledge from the young (but growing) field of infant mental health about the importance of identifying the emotional needs of our youngest children and their families. We now know that emotional development sets the stage for exploration and later readiness to learn and indeed, is the foundation for all later development. This knowledge provides early education and child care settings with great opportunity and challenge as they strive to modify existing practice. However, building the capacity to address the mental health needs of families with young children transcends the responsibility of early education and child care settings. To truly offer the continuum of services that will support emotional development, it is imperative that the broader caregiving community and related providers (e.g., social work, psychology, psychiatry, pediatrics, obstetrics, family health) come together. Widespread societal support will be needed if these efforts are to succeed. The time has come for the development of a comprehensive initiative to address the mental health of infants and their families. As a step in this process, on October 23 and 24, 2000, the Administration on Children Youth and Families convened the Infant Mental Health Forum in Washington, DC.

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