Policy Resource

ZERO TO THREE to Help States Tackle Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Challenges

Aug 24, 2016

Selected states will identify strategies to improve mental health assessment and treatment of very young children.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ten states have been selected to participate in an upcoming ZERO TO THREE Policy Center convening to advance state policy related to infant and early childhood mental health.

A child’s earliest experiences – both positive and negative – have a profound affect on their brain formation

Following a competitive process, representatives from governmental agencies, advocacy organizations, and child- and family-serving programs in the following states were selected: Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia.

“We know that children’s earliest experiences – both positive and negative – affect their brain formation,” said Matthew Melmed, executive director of ZERO TO THREE. “The period from birth to age 5 is critical to future success, and we are pleased that policymakers, in Congress and in states, are increasingly aware of, and investing in, infant and early childhood mental health.”

It is estimated that between 9.5 percent and 14.2 percent of children age birth to 5 experience an emotional or behavioral disturbance. Congress is on the verge of addressing infant and early childhood mental health for the first time by including a provision in mental health reform to address prevention, intervention, and treatment programs specifically for very young children. States continue to be faced with many challenges in the infant and early childhood mental health field, including developing and financing assessments, developmentally appropriate diagnosis, and evidence-informed treatment. The goal of the ZERO TO THREE convening is to identify state strategies to align healthcare finance policy, specifically Medicaid, with infant and early childhood mental health practice. The convening, which will be held October 13 and 14 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, will offer both expert and peer technical assistance in this arena.

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The opportunity is supported in part by the Irving Harris Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Minnesota, and presented in partnership with BUILD and the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Children’s Mental Health Division.

“It is critically important that we align health care practice with the evidence base for promoting healthy development in infants and toddlers so that all kids have the best chance for a healthy start in life,” said Tara Oakman, senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“We believe that strengthening and integrating infant and early childhood mental health supports in child- and family-serving systems is fundamental to improving outcomes for all children, particularly those who face adverse experiences during the earliest stages of development. We are thrilled to support this opportunity for states to learn from each other and develop strategies to advance state policy on infant and early childhood mental health,” said Denise Castillo Dell Isola, program officer at the Irving Harris Foundation.


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.

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    Karen Stecher

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