The Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project, a rigorous random-assignment evaluation of 3,001 children and families in 17 programs around the country, collected information on maternal and paternal depressive symptoms. This research presents findings on what was learned about depression in the lives of Early Head Start families. It also describes the importance of focusing on mental health and the role Early Head Start plays in addressing mental health needs.
As a comprehensive child development program, Head Start has traditionally been concerned with supporting the social and emotional well-being of children and families and providing and/or accessing services for those families with mental health needs. In fact, the Head Start Program Performance Standards require each program to obtain a mental health consultant (1304.52), timely and responsive services (1304.24), and family-centered mental health services and education (1304.40).
Parents and staff are working to understand and address the mental health needs of very young children. It has been a particular challenge for Head Start programs serving infants and toddlers (Administration on Children, Youth and Families [ACYF], 2000), as there are relatively few resources available to meet the needs of our youngest children. In order to support programs in this area, ACYF held a national meeting, the Infant Mental Health Forum, in October 2000, which led to the funding of the Early Head Start National Resource Center at Zero to Three to engage in training and technical assistance activities designed to raise awareness and create and disseminate resources for programs (http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/ehsnrc/center Visit disclaimer page ). In addition, ACYF has funded the Early Promotion and Intervention Research Consortium to develop and test approaches that support the mental health of infants and toddlers and their families in Early Head Start.