PRESS RELEASE: The EarlyWell Initiative unveils policy recommendations to support children’s mental health

Policy priorities focus on improving mental health outcomes for children from birth to age eight and address broader ecosystem of resources for infant and child mental health.

By: Emily Blevins | October 2023

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RALEIGH— EarlyWell, an initiative led by NC Child and the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF), recently released their first wave of policy and practice priorities aimed at strengthening the mental health ecosystem for young children and families.  

“EarlyWell has worked with families, caregivers, community organizations, and medical and childcare professionals to develop a set of policy and practice recommendations that are rooted in evidence and informed by the lived experiences of children and families,” said Morgan Forrester Ray, director of the EarlyWell initiative at NC Child. EarlyWell is funded through a multi-year grant with The Duke Endowment and is focused on understanding and improving the landscape around young child mental health care in North Carolina.  

“EarlyWell enjoys a deep well of knowledge from experts, across the state, who have meaningfully developed six actionable policy priorities for the years to come,” said Muffy Grant, NCECF Executive Director.  

The policy priorities have a specific focus on improving mental health outcomes for children from birth to age eight and are designed to address the broader ecosystem of resources for infant and child mental health. “Very young children have distinct mental health needs that are rooted in their social and emotional development, and there’s not one central agency that a parent can contact for resources and information on this issue,” said Ray.  

The first wave of policy priorities from EarlyWell includes recommending:  

  • The implementation and funding of family support services and children’s literacy programming. 
  • North Carolina Medicaid covers birth doulas and increases access to group prenatal care for individuals using Medicaid Health Insurance. 
  • The implementation and funding of programs that further train and develop North Carolina’s early childhood, family services, and the child welfare workforce.  

EarlyWell began in 2019 and is the product of a partnership between NC Child and NCECF. “NC Child had the fortitude to design the first implementation project of the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative, which we at the NC Early Childhood Foundation had shepherded for a number of years,” said Grant. “Infant and toddler mental health, within the context of Medicaid managed care, was a clear answer to our state’s need to focus sustained energy and investments on the social and emotional health of young children. When we were asked to band with them in convening support and thought partnership, we jumped at the opportunity. EarlyWell is illustrative of close and trusting collaboration with our partners in early childhood,” said Grant.  

While the first few years of EarlyWell’s work was devoted to hearing from families and caregivers and developing recommendations that align with their needs, the next phase of the initiative’s work involves engaging a broader coalition to help move the policy recommendations forward.  

“It’s important to us that everyone who cares about infant and early childhood mental health can see themselves in this work and know that they can get involved,” said Ray.  

Individuals and organizations interested in learning more about EarlyWell and getting involved can find out more information at  

About NC Child
NC Child is a nonprofit organization that advances public policies to ensure that every child in North Carolina has the opportunity to thrive, whatever their race, ethnicity, or place of birth. For more information, visit   

About the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation 
The NC Early Childhood Foundation is driven by a bold – and achievable – vision: Each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive, equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. We build understanding, lead collaboration, and advance policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success by the end of third grade. For more information, visit  

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