NestSteps1Two new studies about young children reveal that:

  • Only 1 in 4 children in California who need mental health care receive treatment, despite the fact their families have health insurance to pay for it.
  • Preschoolers who suffer from depression will likely continue to experience it throughout childhood; however spotting it early can make treatment more effective.

It can be hard to imagine young children having mental health issues, but they do just like the rest of us. For infants and toddlers, though, it’s easier to view mental health through the lens of social and emotional development. That’s because healthy social and emotional development in young children is dependent on their loving and supportive relationships with parents and other caregivers. When children are not receiving the loving care they need, and even worse, when they experience persistent trauma or abuse, they are likely to exhibit behaviors that might be perceived as mental health issues.

The good news is that early intervention with these children – and their families – can improve the health of children with social-emotional problems, and get them back on track for healthy development.

Researchers believe that the stigma associated with mental health treatment, infrequent early diagnosis, and a fragmented mental health system are some of the barriers preventing children from receiving services. Families who are low income or not English proficient can also have difficulty accessing these services for their children.

Children express emotional or behavioral problems in many different ways, so it’s not always easy to identify concerns. But if addressed early, mental health treatment can possibly lessen the severity of mental health problems later as adults.

consultationTo that end, First 5 Contra Costa is helping to build a system of care to screen children for social-emotional issues and treat concerns and problems when they occur. For over a decade, we’ve funded mental health consultation services and mental health therapeutic services for children with emotional or behavioral problems.

Consultation services provide mental health specialists to observe and assist children struggling in child care. Therapeutic services provide mental health treatment for children with depression or anxiety, sleep problems, aggressive or withdrawn behavior, and attention problems. Evaluation results show that these services are helping to remediate children’s mental health-related issues.

In the last two years, we’ve added to this system by increasing developmental screening services, which include a social-emotional component, and providing more Triple P parenting classes, which give parents simple strategies to confidently manage their children’s behavior, prevent problems, and build strong, healthy parent-child relationships.

We know there’s a window of opportunity in the early years to set a solid foundation. Early screening, therapeutic mental health services, and programs to improve the relationship children have with their parents – the basis for children’s healthy social-emotional development and focus of early childhood mental health services – are helping to build a steadier foundation for Contra Costa’s most vulnerable children.


  • Tips for promoting healthy social-emotional development in your children
  • Signs children might need mental health services

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