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Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

Mental health is the foundation of early
childhood development.

Babies come into this world ready and wired to form relationships. From the moment of birth, children are forming connections, developing social responses and learning about themselves and the world around them.

Infant and early childhood mental health is at the center of every single step we take at ZERO TO THREE. No other core issues matter if we don’t begin by acknowledging that babies come into the world with a capacity for a rich emotional life and are so much more than passive observers of the world around them. 

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    Mental health is formed in our earliest days, even before birth.

    Why It Matters

    Infant and early childhood mental health is at the center of all the educational, health and policy matters that we advocate for and support.

    But despite trending conversations about our emotional well-being, the mental health of our youngest citizens is largely ignored or misunderstood. As a baby grows through infancy, toddlerhood and the preschool years, each experiencepositive or negativebecomes a building block for their future wellness. We help children and their families build a strong foundation and support them when that foundation cracks. 

    By the Numbers

    Children’s mental health has a direct impact on their social and emotional development


    Between 10-16% of young children experience mental health conditions including PTSD and anxiety.


    For babies in poverty, that number is even higher–22 percent.


    Funding infant and early child mental health programs is a solid investment. Each dollar invested into these programs returns $3.64 back in prevented treatments later in life.

    Source: Think Babies. (2022). Infant and early childhood mental health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022, June 3). Data and statistics on children’s mental health

    By promoting the social-emotional health of infants and young children, we have the potential to positively impact the trajectory of a child’s life.

    Kerrie Schnake

    Urge policymakers to prioritize infant and early childhood mental health and support healthy emotional development right from the start.

    Our Impact

    We advocate for the federal government to dedicate funding and support to mental health resources, including a $50 million grant for infant and early childhood mental health, the inclusion of babies in the current mental health community block grant and an additional $50 million for leadership and training of early childhood mental health professionals.

    We also publish the DC:0-5™ Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood, the only mental health diagnostic tool specifically for young children.

    Professional talking to family at home

    Related Resources

    It takes a village to promote infant and early childhood mental health.

    Our DC:0-5 Clinical Training supports clinicians, pediatricians, nurse practitioners and early intervention specialists who diagnose and treat mental health disorders in children from birth to 5 years old.