Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Summit Leads with Equity

The 2019 North Carolina Infant and Young Child Mental Health & Home Visiting Summit, held in Greensboro this week, kicked off with a full day dedicated to infant and young child mental health, organized by the NC Infant/Young Child Mental Health Association. Aimed at mental health professionals and home visitors, the event included keynotes and workshops on key early childhood mental health topics, including building the capacity of adults to provide safe, nurturing environments and relationships for those under the age of five.

Dr. Kandace Thomas, Senior Program Officer with the Irving Harris Foundation in Chicago, talked in her keynote about using mindfulness to support implementing diversity, inclusion and equity principles into our spheres of practice. She shared the Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work with Infants, Children and Families and engaged the audience in a guided meditation. Thomas invited the audience to “learn and unlearn.” Noting that equity must be addressed with intention to interrupt ingrained patterns of discrimination, she said, “It’s up to us to pause and question ourselves to that we can make changes for the children and families we serve.”

The NC Early Childhood Foundation joined up with NC Child and the NC Early Education Coalition to present a panel discussion on how social-emotional health has emerged as a policy priority for state early childhood leaders. We shared current policy and data efforts to address it, including the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative, Think Babies, and the NC Initiative for Young Children’s Social-Emotional Readiness. NCECF outlined how the Pathways Action Framework supports infant and toddler mental health through recommendations around infusing racial equity into our child and family systems, learning from and engaging families as genuine partners in building our systems, supporting young children in the context of their families, and building infant and young child mental health through ensuring that our state early education and mental health systems are high quality, culturally-competent, culturally-responsive, accessible and affordable. We shared the ongoing work of the Children’s Social-Emotional Health Data Workgroup, which is working towards recommending a measure or portfolio of measures to capture young children’s social-emotional health and development at the population level. The recommendation will then be used to inform the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Measures of Success Framework, and the NC Early Childhood Action Plan.

Other workshops focused on topics like two-generation interventions, building healthy parent-child relationships, supporting early educators with classroom mental health consultation, and recognizing and addressing implicit racial bias. 

At lunch, Becki Planchard with the NC Department of Health and Human Services provided an overview of NC DHHS’ Early Childhood Action Plan, which includes a goal focused specifically on young children’s social-emotional health. Planchard reminded the audience of Dr. Jack Shonkoff’s charge for North Carolina during the NC Early Childhood Summit in February — to be bold for our children and not rest on the impressive history in our state of building successful early childhood programs.

The one-day mental health focus will be followed by a two-day home visiting focus. The full Summit is hosted by the NC Infant/Young Child Mental Health Association, the NC Division of Public Health, the UNC Jordan Institute for Families, and the NC Partnership for Children. The NC Early Childhood Foundation helped sponsor the event.