North Carolina can better support young children’s mental health and development
Young children’s mental health is critical to their long-term health and well-being. Mental health significantly impacts babies’ and toddlers’ ability to learn, establish healthy connections with others, manage their emotions, and grow into capable adults. Supporting mental health for our youngest children means supporting their families. Unfortunately, many children suffer significant adversity in early childhood, including violence, maltreatment, poverty, racism, and other experiences that can disrupt their social-emotional growth.
We can support and protect children’s mental health and development through parent- and family-centered programs of prevention, promotion, early identification, and appropriate intervention. North Carolina must develop a more robust and coordinated system of services to support children’s mental health and well-being.
NC Child, in collaboration with early childhood leaders including the NC Early Childhood Foundation, launched the NC Initiative on Young Children’s Social Emotional Health in Fall 2019. Now known as the EarlyWell Initiative, the collaboration is enacting recommendations from the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Framework. We seek to build a robust, evidence-based, and accessible early childhood mental health system in North Carolina over the next four years.
Lean In & Listen Up: How can we strengthen North Carolina’s early intervention, early childhood, and mental health services? By listening to families, released in April 2021 by the NC Early Childhood Foundation and NC Child, provides a window into what families need and want from North Carolina’s mental health ecosystem for babies and young children. The report is based on more than 200 interviews and surveys with North Carolina parents of young children.
From Equity to Issue Campaigns: The Next Stop on the Road Map to Childhood Mental Health in North Carolina, released in June 2022 by the EarlyWell Initiative, a joint project of NC Child and the NC Early Childhood Foundation, is designed to organize and categorize the problems and solutions identified by families and stakeholders over the last two years – building on our first report.
See the most frequently asked questions about young children’s mental health.
Mental health includes the development of the skills and abilities that help children succeed in both school and life, from self-control to building connections with others. For young children, supporting good mental health for a lifetime means supporting families.
Mental health skills are the building blocks for a bright future. When babies and toddlers experience nurturing, responsive relationships with their caregivers, they are more likely to grow into healthy children and adults. Supportive, resilient communities provide the context for these healthy relationships. Evidence shows that children are more likely to be ready for school, experience academic success, higher graduation rates, and enter the professional world as adults with strong capacities for life-long learning and relating to others. These children grow into the leaders of a resilient and thriving North Carolina.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as persistent poverty, abuse and neglect, parental substance abuse, and maternal depression can create toxic stress for children. Extensive neuroscience research demonstrates that toxic stress can damage children’s brain architecture and increase the likelihood that significant mental health problems will emerge during childhood (Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University).
In North Carolina, too many of our youngest children are experiencing significant adversity:
The impact of these adverse experiences on children’s short- and long-term mental health is clear:
EarlyWell was launched in the Fall of 2019 as the NC Initiative on Young Children’s Social Emotional Health. EarlyWell’s goals are to develop and implement:
The work will be implemented with the following guiding principles: