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Early Childhood Mental Health

Early relationships and experiences at home and in other environments set the stage for how a child learns to manage his or her emotions. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) provides cross-system leadership through its Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) initiative that supports evidence-based training to equip parents and caregivers of young children with the skills to help their children develop into mentally healthy individuals. Parents and teachers who effectively nurture, support and connect with young children, especially those experiencing social or emotional difficulty, can ameliorate future disabling problems.

The ECMH initiative is aimed at promoting healthy social and emotional development (i.e., good mental health) of young children (birth to six years). It focuses on ensuring these children thrive by addressing their behavioral health care needs, which increases their readiness for school and later academic success. This is accomplished by building protective factors in young children’s lives and increasing competencies and skills of parents and early childhood providers. Much of the development and implementation of the Ohio ECMH program has been built upon the research and resources available from the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development.

$9.1M for 2016-17 Pre-School Expulsion Reduction

During January 2016, OhioMHAS announced funding for the addition of up to 64 mental health consultants who will work with teachers, staff and families of at-risk children in preschools and other early learning settings. Services will include on-site interventions, resources for parents and  training for professionals. The goal is to engage early to reduce expulsions in pre-school and kindergarten so that children can succeed in the future.

What is Early Childhood Mental Health?

Early childhood mental health is the social, emotional and behavioral well-being of children birth through five years and their families, including the capacity to:

  • Experience, regulate and express emotion
  • Form close, secure relationships
  • Explore the environment and learn

Early childhood mental health is influenced by:

  • Physical characteristics of the young child
  • Quality of the adult relationships in the child's life
  • Care-giving environments the child is in
  • Community context in which the child and family lives
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ECMH Consultation and Treatment

Ohio implemented the Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (ECMHC) Program in 2000. The program’s objectives are to build protective factors in young children, increase skills of parents and promote the competencies of early childhood providers, especially for children ages birth to six years who are at risk for abuse, neglect and poor social and emotional health. ECMHC targets the healthy social and emotional development of all young children in Ohio to ensure they thrive and are ready for school.

ECMH consultants collaborate with early childhood providers to help them understand and problem-solve challenging child behaviors, both in and out of the classroom. Services include on-site child/family focused technical assistance to parents, teachers and staff; resources for parents, including art therapy, play therapy or physical health referrals and training and professional development. Consultants offer interventions for children and respond to the centers’ programming needs, which include providing family enrichment activities and modeling helpful interactions with children.

During 2008-2009, a workgroup comprised of early childhood mental health professionals developed core competencies for ECMH providers. These core competencies were written to promote the professional development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for ECMH professionals who provide consultation and/or treatment.