21st Century Cures Bill Includes Important Mental Health Grants for Very Young Children

Dec 7, 2016

ZERO TO THREE applauds focus on creating a strong foundation for positive mental health, starting at birth.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Provisions recommended by ZERO TO THREE to support mental health promotion, intervention and treatment programs for very young children are included in the 21st Century Cures bill, passed by Congress today.

“This is an important victory toward improved infant mental health prevention, identification and treatment – and the first time it has been recognized by Congress,” said Matthew Melmed, executive director, ZERO TO THREE. “People think of mental health as an issue for older children and adults, but in reality, it’s critical that mental health needs are addressed starting in very young children. 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.”

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 infant and early childhood mental health provision was not included in the original version of the House Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. ZERO TO THREE first spearheaded the effort to have the measure added when the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions took up mental health reform last March. Its subsequent inclusion in both Senate and House bills underscores Congress’ recognition that comprehensive mental health reform should begin where the foundations of strong mental health are laid, with very young children starting from birth. The final version of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act was added as an amendment to the 21st Century Cures bill.

Specifically, the infant and early childhood mental health provision will:

  • 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.

“We are extremely grateful to the Congressional champions on this issue, including Senators Bill Cassidy and Chris Murphy, Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray, and Chairman Fred Upton and Ranking Member Frank Pallone for recognizing that babies’ mental health matters and fighting for them throughout this process,” Melmed added.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law soon.


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, or follow @ZEROTOTHREE on Twitter.

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    Stephanie Millian

    Former Senior Communications Director

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