Policy Resource

Michigan's Pioneer Spirit Offers Professional Opportunities for its Early Childhood Mental Health System

Sep 20, 2016

The standards and the endorsement process proved important to many outside of Michigan. By 2016, 23 state infant mental health associations, two large children’s agencies, and two international infant mental health organizations had entered into licensing agreements to use the MI-AIMH Competency Guidelines® and/or the MI-AIMH Endorsement®.

Michigan is a leader, both nationally and internationally, in professional development in the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (I-ECMH) field. The state has formally agreed to share its competency guidelines and endorsement standards to promote infant mental health with 23 state infant mental health associations and the infant mental health organizations in Ireland and Australia.

The competency guidelines and the endorsement recognize professionals from many disciplines who incorporate infant mental health principles into their work with families, as well as mental health professionals who specifically work with the mental health needs of infants, toddlers, and parents at risk or with identified mental health conditions. The endorsement serves as a verification that the holder has attained a specific level of education, participated in specialized trainings, and worked with mentors or supervisors.

Michigan has long been a leader in the infant mental health field. In the mid-1990s, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE, then the lead agency for Part C early intervention) assembled representatives from the early intervention field, many of whom were members of the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health (MI-AIMH) a nonprofit association whose mission is to promote infant mental health principles and practices across systems of care. The group recommended core competencies for the statewide professional development plan, building on existing Part C standards.

The association expanded the core competencies to include a broad array of professionals from the education, health, and mental health fields and designated four levels of competency. These levels include infant family associates, infant family specialists, infant mental health specialists, and infant mental health mentors. MI-AIMH’s multidisciplinary competency guidelines are based on the principle that all development occurs in the context of relationships. They are organized around eight core competency areas: theoretical foundations; law, regulation, and agency policy; systems expertise; direct service skills; working with others; communicating; thinking; and reflection.

In 2002, after several years of working with the MI-AIMH Competency Guidelines® as training and professional development standards that promote infant mental health, MI-AIMH professionals designed the MI-AIMH Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-focused Practice Promoting Infant Mental Health®. The Endorsement is a workforce development system that lays out education, training, work experience, and reflective practice requirements for four levels of competency. Professionals can earn endorsement at one of the four levels by submitting a portfolio documenting fulfillment of the requirements and, for levels three and four, completing an exam.

When MI-AIMH first began offering endorsement in Michigan, professionals primarily used the system to recognize educational, work, and supervisory experiences they had received while working with infants, toddlers, and their families. Within a few years, systems and policy changes began to take place as a result of MI-AIMHs work. In 2007, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) required infant and early childhood mental health consultants to meet the guidelines for endorsement as Infant Family Specialists. One year later, MDCH required all providers of in-home services and infant mental health services to earn endorsement as Infant Family Specialists or Infant Mental Health Specialists. Significant to these policy changes, MDCH worked hard to assure that all infant and early childhood consultants and in-home providers received specialized training and reflective supervision as required to meet the criteria for endorsement.

The standards and the endorsement process proved important to many outside of Michigan. By 2016, 23 state infant mental health associations, two large children’s agencies, and two international infant mental health organizations had entered into licensing agreements to use the MI-AIMH Competency Guidelines® and/or the MI-AIMH Endorsement®.

States licensing the Competencies and Endorsement have also made significant progress in promoting infant mental health. Several used the standards to guide service expansions and workforce development. Texas used them to promote competencies in child care. Kansas expanded its statewide early childhood mental health consultation program to meet Endorsement workforce requirements. New Mexico developed an Infant Mental Health Training Institute and guidelines for behavioral health services for infants, toddlers, and their families. Arizona developed a competency-based applied master’s program in Infant and Family Practice at Arizona State University.

In 2014, MI-AIMH divided into two organizations: MI-AIMH (focused on state efforts) and the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health (focused on continued national and international activity specific to global support for use of the MI-AIMH Competency Guidelines® and the MI-AIMH Endorsement®, research, and practice).

Michigan’s work is highlighted in ZERO TO THREE’s publication A Place to Get Started: Innovation in Infant and Toddler State Policies.

It is also discussed in greater detail in ZERO TO THREE’s publication Nurturing Change: State Strategies for Improving Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

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