Today more than ever, positive mental health is being challenged by an ongoing pandemic and societal changes. During Mental Health Awareness Month, organizations and individuals across the country are promoting positive mental health and current services available and advocating for new and improved policies for supporting the mental health of individuals and their families.
Infant/early childhood mental health (I/ECMH) is a strengths-based focus on the developing ability of young children to form close and secure relationships, experience, manage and express emotions, and explore and learn from their environments. At Start Early, we recognize the importance of I/ECMH and know that it is just as critical as our physical health.
Historically, national data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that indicators of positive mental health are present in most children. From 2016 – 2019, which notably is pre-pandemic, parents reported that their child mostly or always showed affection (97%), resilience (87.9%), positivity (98.7%) and curiosity (93.9%) among children ages 3-5 years.
However, new reports from the CDC and the Surgeon General have highlighted major increases in adverse mental health symptoms among children, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, President Joe Biden and his Administration have demonstrated recognition of the critical need for federal action supporting positive mental health. Both their approved Fiscal Year 2022 spending package and his latest budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2023 released this spring shine a significant and unprecedented focus on mental health.
The federal Fiscal Year 2023 budget would allocate:
- $38 million for the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health grant program, which would expand access to evidence-based and culturally appropriate mental health services to young children ($30 million increase from previous year)
- $35.4 million for Project LAUNCH, which works to ensure that the systems that serve young children have the resources and knowledge to foster their social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral development ($11.8 million increase from previous year)
- $5.7 billion for health centers, including $85 million dedicated to embedding early childhood development experts in health centers
- $1.7 billion for the Community Mental Health Block Grant, which addresses the needs of adults with serious mental illness and children with serious emotional disturbances ($895 million increase from previous year)
- $150 million for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which supports the development and promotion of practices that support children exposed to trauma ($78.1 million increase from previous year)
- $10 million for the Screening and Treatment for Maternal Depression and Related Disorders, which increases access to perinatal and behavioral health care ($5 million increase from previous year)
- $7 million for the Maternal Health Hotline ($4 million increase from previous year)
Federal legislation has also been introduced that would help meet the urgent mental health needs of families today, including:
- Early Childhood Mental Health Supports Act (HR 6509), which would bolster mental health services for young children enrolled in Head Start and other early learning and care programs
- Resilience Investment, Support and Expansion Trauma Act, “RISE” (S.2086), which would expand the trauma-informed workforce and increase critical mental health resources for communities, including community response and capacity and workforce development
- Services and Trauma-informed Research of Outcomes in Neighborhoods Grants for (STRONG) Support for Children Act (HR 3793), which would support local health departments in addressing trauma and ensure services are equitably accessible to all children and families
- Still to come is the Interagency Task Force on Trauma-Informed Care’s public report, which will outline best practices and recommendations for better federal support of children and families impacted by substance use disorders and trauma.
There is bipartisan support for wide-reaching and long-lasting reforms that can create a healthy foundation for all children starting at birth – reforms that should be built into any national mental health conversation.
Start Early is proud to partner with organizations nationwide to advance federal, state and local policy priorities that support I/ECMH and the mental health of families and caregivers. There is no better time to seize proposed opportunities that help ensure equitable access to mental health services and can set a child up for a lifetime of overall health and success.