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ZERO TO THREE Applauds Addition of Infant and Early Childhood Provisions to Mental Health Reform Act

The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 now includes infant and early childhood mental health language recommended by ZERO TO THREE. View the press release to learn more about the bill and how the additional language will support infants, toddlers and their families.

WASHINGTON — The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 now includes infant and early childhood mental health language recommended by ZERO TO THREE.

The provision, which addresses the need for prevention, intervention, and treatment programs specifically for very young children, was not included in the original draft of the bill. ZERO TO THREE – a national nonprofit that has worked to advance the healthy development of America’s babies and toddlers for nearly 40 years – spearheaded the effort to have the measure added to the bill, which was marked up by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions today. The inclusion of the provision underscores the need to focus comprehensive mental health reform where the foundations of strong mental health are laid – with young children, starting from birth.

“We are extremely grateful to Senator Bill Cassidy and Senator Chris Murphy, who championed the infant-toddler provision, as well as Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray, for recognizing that babies’ mental health matters,” said Matthew Melmed, executive director, ZERO TO THREE. “Babies notice what is happening in their environments and how they are treated. Once a mental health disturbance has begun, the problems will take root and worsen, until they are more difficult and expensive to treat later in life. That’s why it’s so critical that the needs of babies are addressed in this legislation. The action taken today is an important starting point toward investing in infant mental health prevention, identification and treatment.”

Specifically, the provision added to the bill would:

  • Award grants to develop, maintain, or enhance infant and early childhood mental health prevention, intervention and treatment programs.
  • Ensure that funded programs are grounded in evidence and are culturally and linguistically appropriate.
  • Allow funds to support:
    • age-appropriate preventive, early intervention, or treatment services;
    • training for infant and early childhood mental health clinicians to integrate with other providers who work with young children and families;
    • training mental health clinicians in infant and early childhood mental health; and
    • mental health consultation to early care and education programs.

It is estimated that between 9.5 percent and 14.2 percent of children age birth to 5 experience an emotional or behavioral disturbance. This means that between 1.9 and 2.8 million very young children in the U.S. need more intensive mental health support. Symptoms of depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism spectrum disorder and other mental health issues can begin to manifest in infancy and toddlerhood. Untreated symptoms of mental health disorders can take root in very young children and accumulate, with potentially serious consequences for early learning, social competence and lifelong health.

The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 aims to improve accountability and evaluations of mental health programs, use federal dollars to support people suffering from mental illnesses, practice evidence-based approaches to treatment, and increase access to mental health care for veterans, homeless individuals, women, and children. The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.



ZERO TO THREE works to ensure all babies and toddlers benefit from the family and community connections critical to their well-being and development. Since 1977, the organization has advanced the proven power of nurturing relationships by transforming the science of early childhood into helpful resources, practical tools and responsive policies for millions of parents, professionals and policymakers. For more information, and to learn how to become a ZERO TO THREE member, please visit zerotothree.org, facebook.com/ZEROTOTHREE or follow @ZEROTOTHREE on Twitter.

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