Children's Voice Mar/Apr 2008

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One on One
Questions and Answers with CWLA Staff

Julie Collins, CWLA Director, Mental Health

In "Making the Case for Infant Mental Health," in this issue of Children's Voice, we learn the importance of paying attention to this subject. How has CWLA addressed infant mental health?

A number of key activities have taken place. CWLA's Mental Health Advisory Board and Child Care and Development Advisory Committee, cohosted sessions during the 2006 and 2007 CWLA National Conferences on the issue of early childhood mental health that provided information on research and highlighted some of the emerging best practices being tested with caregivers, including foster parents.

The two advisory groups have continued to work together to get information to the field. A group of members from the Mental Health Advisory Board helped select and edit articles for the recent special issue of Child Welfare journal on children's mental health [September/October 2007]. One of the sessions at CWLA's 2008 National Conference featured the authors of a journal article on mental health assessments of infants in foster care.

Additionally, I have linked with other national organizations around this issue, including Zero to Three and the Center for Evidence-Based Practices for Young Children with Challenging Behaviors. We are looking at ways to join with other organizations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Casey Family Programs, which are focusing efforts around this group of young children to get information and tools to the field.

Greater collaboration creates the opportunity for cross-pollination of information among the groups and CWLA members dealing with young children. When you are better informed, you can pay attention in different ways. Knowing more about the importance of early intervention and prevention, we can improve success rates and outcomes for children and ultimately feel more successful about our work.

How does the special issue of Child Welfare journal address infant mental health?

Entitled "Effectively Addressing Mental Health Issues in Child Welfare Practice," it highlights successful model programs for delivering mental health services to children and families involved in the child welfare system. One area where we sought articles was prevention and early childhood mental health.

Several articles focus on assessment-one of which is on the assessment of infant and toddlers by Judith Silver and Cheryl Dicker, based on their work with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the CWLA Initiative for Effectively Addressing the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Needs of Children in Foster Care. They also discuss the legal requirements and unique issues practitioners must consider for these children.

What other important research has emerged around infant mental health?

Although research such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente was not around infants or early childhood, it pointed out so significantly the correlation between adverse experiences in childhood and the higher incidents of significant medical issues later in life. It also highlighted that if you address these issues early enough, you can potentially impact the individual and society in a different way and with significant cost benefit.

Brain research has provided a significant amount of information and continues to do so. The challenge, of course, is taking that research and making it practical. We have people, including Dr. Jill Stamm, who are taking the research findings and translating them into tools for caregivers that are practical. The brain research has played a significant role in changes to legislation. More and more, states are using that information to inform their legislatures and obtain funding for more programs and services for very young children up to age 5.

Additionally, efforts such as the Strengthening Families initiative, spearheaded by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, have played a significant role in highlighting the key elements for early childhood programs to incorporate and ensure better outcomes for these young children. Public child welfare agencies have started incorporating the principles and approaches of the initiative to further enhance their work with this young population.

My hope is that this work and the work we are doing will increasingly help the field become better informed about the importance of effectively addressing mental health issues for infants and toddlers.

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