Healthy Mental Development in Young Children

From birth to age two, much of the brain architecture related to social and emotional response is formed as scaffolding for future mental health. Research is clear on the importance of supportive and nurturing environments in these years and the particular importance of parent-child bonding.

BUILD Initiative states integrate mental health development into their early care and education systems to improve child outcomes.There is a growing understanding of how to screen for, identify and respond to early mental conditions such as autism spectral disorder and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. As many as one in six young children has a diagnosable mental condition that would benefit from early screening and response.

There also is growing understanding of the importance of:

  • Identifying and responding to parental, particularly maternal, depression and stress.
  • Using two-generation approaches that strengthen bonding and connections between young children and their families.

Policies and Practices That Support Early Childhood Mental Health

Although early childhood mental health clearly is a developing field, states and communities, as well as practitioner champions, have established exemplary policies and practices to strengthen young children’s healthy mental growth and development.

The BUILD Initiative conducted the 2010 Conference on Young Children’s Healthy Mental Development. The conference included an overview policy brief for the Colorado Trust, as well as presentations on brain research on health mental development and health equity and healthy mental development.

The BUILD Initiative is collaborating with the National Center for Children in Poverty and ZERO TO THREE in a series of webinars on early childhood mental health. BUILD has also collaborated with the Urban Institute in disseminating its research on Medicaid’s role in supporting young child development, including a research paper on state policies and practices to address maternal depression.