ZERO TO THREE Partners with State Organizations to Tackle Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Challenges

Feb 21, 2018

19 states selected to identify strategies to improve mental health assessment and treatment of very young children.

Joana Lopes / Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The second ZERO TO THREE Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Policy convening will bring together governmental agencies, advocacy organizations, and child- and family-serving programs from 19 states and the District of Columbia to advance state policy related to social and emotional health of babies and toddlers.

After the convening, being held May 15-17 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, all of the teams involved will participate in a year of “technical assistance,” working together to tackle financing barriers and explore innovative strategies for expanding access to mental health services for infants, toddlers, and their families.

The 2018 convening will build on work begun at the 2016 gathering. Nine new states, along with representatives from Washington, D.C., will take part this year: Alabama, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington. The convening will also include returning representatives from 2016 convening states: Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Virginia.

ZERO TO THREE works to ensure all babies and toddlers benefit from the family and community connections critical to their well-being and development. “Infant and early childhood mental health remains a critical, but often overlooked, policy challenge,” said Matthew Melmed, executive director of ZERO TO THREE. “We know that children’s earliest experiences – both positive and negative – affect their brain formation. The period from birth to age 5 is critical to future success. Infants, toddlers, and parents should have access to appropriate screening, diagnosis, and treatment services to meet their mental health needs.”

It is estimated that between 9.5 percent and 14.2 percent of children age birth to 5 experience an emotional or behavioral disturbance. In late 2016, Congress addressed infant and early childhood mental health for the first time by including a provision in mental health reform to create grants to support the mental health needs of very young children. Those grants currently lack funding, but that could change as Congress addresses the FY18 budget. Meanwhile, states continue to face 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. This opportunity will offer both expert and peer technical assistance in this arena.

The convening is supported in part by the Irving Harris Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Alliance for Early Success, and the University of Minnesota, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Human Services Mental Health Division.

“We continue to learn from a tremendous body of evidence that the earliest years are critically important to healthy lifelong development,” said Tara Oakman, senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Aligning state policies and systems with evidence in ways that can help positively shape these early experiences is fundamental to giving all kids a healthy start in life. States can learn a lot from each other and from experts and this convening and the work that will stem from it will help to achieve that goal.”

“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. States from the first cohort were able to develop strategies and make progress on advancing state policy on infant and early childhood mental health, and we are excited to see what the second cohort of states can accomplish after attending the May convening and learning from experts as well as from one another,” said Denise Castillo Dell Isola, senior 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. For more information, and to learn how to become a ZERO TO THREE member, please visit, or follow @zerotothree on Twitter.

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