What is infant and early childhood mental health?

This fall, CSI will be piloting an in-house training program to prepare clinicians to deliver infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) services. Both staff and interns will be invited to attend this 13-week professional learning experience. The training is being developed and delivered by one of our social workers who spends a majority of her week providing early childhood mental health consultation to a local early education and care agency.

Zero to Three, a leading agency in the field of IECMH, published a briefing paper in November 2017 that reported an “extreme shortage” of IECMH professionals and that many undergraduate and graduate programs offer limited education in IECMH. This training will offer clinicians in-depth, interdisciplinary knowledge of early childhood development and caregiver attachment relationships, which are the foundations of clinical treatment of infants, young children, and their caregivers.


Offering an IECMH training series within Community Services Institute is a unique opportunity to bolster staff development, to increase the availability of quality infant and early childhood mental health services in the community, and to fulfill CSI’s mission to give caregivers the tools they need to keep families together and children safe.

What is infant and early childhood mental health?

The widely accepted definition of IECMH, offered by Zero to Three, describes IECMH as:

“the developing capacity of the child from birth to 5 years of age to form close and secure adult and peer relationships; experience, manage, and express a full range of emotions; and explore the environment and learn—all in the context of family, community, and culture.”

That is, IECMH addresses a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development, with attention to the child’s family and cultural environment.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in collaboration with Zero to Three, published a study in September 2017 titled “Public Perception of Infant Brain Development”, which found that of the approximately 1,600 voters surveyed:

“Nine in 10 voters believe brain development in infants and toddlers is an important topic, and most (85%) believe experiences in the first three years of a child’s life can lead to long-term impacts later in life. However, about half say they know little or nothing about the topic.”​

The science is clear, and society is catching on to the fact that infancy and early childhood is a critical period for newborns, infants, and children.

If you want to learn more about the science of child development, check out these resources published by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. They offer both in depth and brief learning materials—intended for people who learn in diverse ways, and available in many languages.

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