Policy Resource

ZERO TO THREE Applauds Inclusion of Infant and Early Childhood Provisions in Mental Health Reform Bill

Jun 15, 2016

Legislation includes focus on creating a strong foundation for mental health, starting at birth

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 15, 2016) – Provisions to support mental health promotion, intervention and treatment programs for very young children came closer to becoming law today when the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee voted to pass the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.

The infant and early childhood mental health language—not included in the original draft of the bill—was recommended by ZERO TO THREE. The organization first spearheaded the effort to have the measure added when the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions took up mental health reform in March. Its inclusion underscores the need to focus comprehensive mental health reform where the foundations of strong mental health are laid—with very young children, starting from birth.

“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,” said Matthew Melmed, executive director, ZERO TO THREE. “That’s why it’s so critical that the needs of babies are addressed in this legislation. The action taken today is an important step toward improved infant mental health prevention, identification and treatment.”

“We are extremely grateful to Chairman Upton for recognizing that babies’ mental health matters,” Melmed added.

Specifically, the language added to the bill would:

  • Award grants to develop, maintain or enhance infant and early childhood mental health promotion, intervention and treatment programs.
  • Ensure that funded programs are grounded in evidence and are culturally and linguistically appropriate.
  • Allow funds to support:
    • age-appropriate promotion, 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 in 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 Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act aims to improve accountability and evaluations of mental health programs, use federal dollars to support people suffering from mental illnesses, promote evidence-based approaches to treatment, and increase access to mental health care for veterans, homeless individuals, women, and children.


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, please visit zerotothree.org, facebook.com/ZEROTOTHREE or follow @ZEROTOTHREE on Twitter.

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