A Focus on Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health

May 2022
Early Childhood Mental Health & the Importance of Screening
This newsletter focuses on sharing information on infant/early childhood mental health and
the importance of relationship-based approaches and supports that help infants and young children feel safe, supported, and valued by the adults around them. The newsletter, and the Infant Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC) program, is made possible by a partnership between the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) and the Pennsylvania Key.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Early childhood mental health means healthy social and emotional development in young children. It is developing capacity of a child from birth to age five to:
  • form close and secure inter-personal relationships
  • experience, regulate and express emotions; and
  • explore the environment and learn in the context of family, community, and cultural expectations from young children.
In this issue, we shine a spotlight on understanding the importance of caring for every child’s mental health and reinforce that positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development. Caregivers promote and support this healthy development by being responsive in their communication and interactions, supporting positive social interactions, intentional teaching, communicating expectations and making every effort to prevent the occurrence or escalation of social emotional problems in children, identifying and working to remediate problems that surface.

But what if a young child’s behaviors are causing problems at home or in the early learning environment, or there is a concern about their development? We need to consider what may be preventing a child from being successful. It is important to find out as soon as possible and identify ways to help the child before the problem interferes with their relationships, learning and school. Developmental screening is one way one way to decide whether a child’s difficulties are serious enough to need attention.  This can be done within a partnership between a family and child’s early learning center.

The Ages & Stages (ASQ) Questionnaires system has been chosen as the formal screening tool of the ECMH Consultation Project. The tool is quick and easy to administer and score. It is a snapshot of a child’s current development, not a diagnosis. The ASQ was designed to be completed by parents. This system is also being used across various state and county programs, such as Early Childhood Education, Early Head Start and Head Start, and Early Intervention for developmental monitoring.
Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) System has two complementary components:
  1. Ages & Stages Questionnaires cover five developmental domains: communication, gross motor, fine motor, personal-social and problem solving
  2. Ages & Stages Questionnaires: Social Emotional® (ASQ:SE-2®): Social Emotional focuses on social and emotional competence and the areas of: self-regulation, compliance, communication, adaptive functioning, autonomy, affect and interaction with people. The IECMHC team delivers training on the Ages & Stages Questionnaires® multiple times throughout the year- search for dates in the PD Registry.
There is the Bright Start webpage to support the understanding on how to nurture a child’s mental health by supporting their social emotional development. Check out the videos and printed materials to support your own understanding and help families support healthy development at home. Visit the Bright Start: Supporting Social-Emotional Development webpage.
Young children spend more and more time in child care programs. Those programs have an increasingly significant effect on children’s social and emotional development. Thank you teachers for making a difference every day!
  • Caring for Children’s Mental Health: Why It’s Crucial to Start Early (5:05) Science tells us that the foundations of sound mental health are built early in life. Early experiences—including children’s relationships with parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers, and peers—interact with genes to shape the architecture of the developing brain. This 5-minute video explains how improving children’s environments of relationships and experiences early in life can prevent initial difficulties from destabilizing later development and mental health. Watch the video.
  • Young Children’s Mental Health: What Is Essential? When we think of children’s health, we usually think of their physical well-being. “Are they active and fi t? Do they get sick often?” Mental health is just as important as physical health. “Mental health” includes how we feel about ourselves and other people, and how we cope with life. Mental health in young children is related to their social and emotional development. Caregivers, teachers, and family members all have roles to play in fostering young children’s mental health. Read more.          
  • 3 Reasons Good Infant Mental Health Matters. Infant mental health is the optimal social, emotional, and cognitive well-being of children ages 0-3, developed by secure and stable relationships with nurturing caregivers. Learn more in this digital and printable infographic, 3 Reasons Good Infant Mental Health Matters. This infographic contains links to three short videos on Infant Mental Health.
  • 7 Areas of Social-Emotional Development: What They Are and How to Support Them. Seven key social-emotional areas children will need for school and for the rest of their lives: self-regulation, compliance, adaptive functioning, autonomy, affect, social-communication, and interaction with people. This article takes a look at each of these important areas and share some practical ways that parents and caregivers can support development at home between screenings. 7 Areas of Social-Emotional Development: What They Are and How to Support Them - Ages and Stages
Importance of screening: Screening young children is an effective, efficient way for professionals to catch problems and start treatment when it does the most good – during the crucial early years when the child’s brain and body are developing so rapidly.

“Compensating for missed opportunities, such as the failure to detect early difficulties…often requires extensive intervention, if not heroic efforts, later in life.” —From Neurons to Neighborhoods 
  • Are you getting the full picture of child development? Discover the benefits of adding social-emotional screening to your program. It is common knowledge that young children should be screened early and often to monitor development, celebrate milestones, and identify possible delays. That’s why so many early childhood professionals use ASQ®-3. But you can get an even fuller picture—one that also focuses on both development and social-emotional well-being—by adding Ages and Stages Questionnaires®: Social-Emotional, Second Edition (ASQ®:SE-2) to your screening program. Learn more.

  • Screening with ASQ: Easy for provider, engaging for parents (2:03) Hear from early childhood professionals how the ASQ tools help them engage families, support development, and improve outcomes for young children. Watch the video.
  • Social-emotional development: Screening with ASQ: SE-2 (2:51) Social-emotional development is important for young children because it's a key to success in school, in social environments, and in environments both at home and away from home. It's also really the best predictor we have of academic success. If we want children to develop at their utmost capacity, we need to find problems early and begin to give them the support they need. ASQ:SE-2 gives us the information we need to get started! Watch the video.
  • Learn the Signs. Act Early. The “Learn the Signs. Act Early” tools and resources are communication tools that aim to promote developmental monitoring by tracking developmental milestones and to encourage conversations between families, health care professionals, and early childhood professionals about child development. “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” | CDC
By educating families about developmental milestones and involving them as key screening partners, you are ensuring that your program will result in positive, strength-based decisions that support children’s development and learning.
  • 7 Ways to Nurture Your Child’s Mental Health. Read to find out why talking about children’s mental health is so crucial. Then, discover a few strategies for building good mental health habits as a family. Learn more.
  • How Parents of Infants Can Support Social-Emotional Development. Learn more.
  • How Parents of Toddlers Can Support Social-Emotional Development. Learn more.
  • How Parents of Preschoolers Can Support Social-Emotional Development. Learn more.
  • How to Introduce the Questionnaires in Ways that Ease Parent’s Concerns. Reluctance is often due to a lack of understanding about why screening is necessary, what to expect, or how answers will be used. Here are some tips for introducing ASQ® questionnaires—and increasing the odds that families can complete them with confidence. Learn more.

  • ASQ for Families: Your Quick-Guide to ASQ Screening. This quick-guide answers some of the most commonly asked questions about ASQ screening, including what screening is and why it’s important, how it works, and what families can expect after their child’s screening has been completed. Learn more.
Infant Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Matters Resources.
  • 10 Free Social-Emotional Development Resources. One of the most critical time periods to focus on is early childhood, when young learners’ attitudes and perceptions are just starting to form. Ensuring that young children develop strong social-emotional skills will help to get children ready for school and set every child up for future success in life. Learn more.

  • ASQ and the New CDC Milestones: Your Questions Answered. Recently, the CDC and AAP released updated developmental milestones for young children from 2 months through 5 years of age. With this new development came some questions in the field: Why were the updates made, and is ASQ still a valid screener in light of the changes? Why is developmental screening still important—can’t families and professionals just monitor children’s progress toward the milestones? Learn more.

  • Four Ways Culture Impacts Mental Health. What comes to mind when you think about culture? For a lot of us, we immediately think of what’s right in front of us: unique languages, different clothing and diverse food. But a society’s culture also impacts a person’s beliefs, norms and values. It impacts how you view certain ideas or behaviors. And in the case of mental health, it can impact whether or not you seek help, what type of help you seek and what support you have around you. Learn more.
IECMH Consultation helps adults strengthen their relationships with young children and build capacity to respond to children’s social-emotional needs. IECMHC can help reduce caregiver stress, as well as increase caregivers’ reflective practice skills.
IECMH Consultants are available by appointment to provide IECMHC Virtual Office Hours consultation via telephone or video conference. IECMHC Virtual Office Hours is a short-term, collaborative, problem-solving conversation to help you find next steps for: Child Social-Emotional Concerns | Child Behavioral or Developmental Concerns Emotional Well-being of Teachers and Caregivers | Partnering with Families.
Appointments are held on the first and third Fridays of the month, or other days/times by request. Get more info.
The Pennsylvania Key has streamlined the process for Keystone STARS programs to request Infant Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC). Child care providers can request services by using the Request for Service Form (PDF). Completed forms can be submitted via email PAIECMH@pakeys.org or faxed to 717-213-3749.
Programs and families can contact the program leadership directly at PAIECMH@pakeys.org with questions or concerns.
Share your feedback! We'd like to hear what you think about infant early childhood mental health. Are there resources you'd like to see? Questions you have? Tell us! Send your feedback to PAIECMH@pakeys.org.