Policy Resource

Vermont Develops Early Childhood Mental Health Competencies

Feb 9, 2016

A work group in Vermont developed Infant Toddler and Early Childhood Mental Health (ITECMH) competencies, Vermonts Early Childhood and Family Mental Health Competencies, over a 4-year period, presenting a final version in 2007 (Vermont Early Childhood and Family Mental Health Competencies Practice Group, 2007).

Representatives from special education, mental health, early intervention, and higher education collaborated to develop a protocol to guide development of a service delivery system around social-emotional well-being in young children and their families. The competencies, focused on children ages birth to 8 years, were aligned with other state early childhood care and education protocols.

The Vermont system identifies four levels of professionals who might engage in ITECMH training.

  1. Foundation professionals: child care providers, those who work in Head Start or home health. The competencies required for Level 1 are considered the foundation for working with young children and their families.
  2. Intermediate professionals: child care directors, kindergarten teachers, and registered nurses. Level 2 candidates must be knowledgeable about competencies that bear on skills needed in working with children and families who exhibit challenges.
  3. Advanced professionals: special education teachers and mental health consultants. Level 3 professionals must show skills in planning or providing direct services or consultation around early childhood mental health challenges.
  4. Specialist professionals: licensed therapists, professors, agency directors, or those holding medical degrees. Competencies required at Level 4 reflect the expert skills that are needed in working with the most challenging situations as well as the ability to provide leadership in the field.

The Vermont competency domains are broken down further into subsections that vary in specificity and depth depending on the level of the candidate. Although the work group noted that the levels are hierarchical, with later levels building on previous ones, the Vermont system is arguably the most elaborate in terms of designating particular content for each level for all domains and subdomains of competencies.

In 2011, a credential using the second level (intermediate) of the competencies as a foundation was piloted by Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center and is currently being offered through regional cohorts, in which groups of professionals work together over a 12-to-20-month period to meet credentialing requirements. The credential is designed for experienced professionals working with children, families, or staff (such as a consultant), whether through home visiting or as part of a center-based environment (such as a classroom, group setting, or clinic). As of July 2013, five individuals participating in the initial pilot had received the credential after a period of approximately 15“20 months, with at least three more credential applications in process (Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center, 2013a, 2013b). A newsletter noted that developing the portfolio was the most challenging part of earning the credential for the pilot group (Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center, 2013a). In addition, the applicants who worked as part of a cohort had greater success than those who applied as individuals, which supports the current structure of embedding the credentialing process in regional cohort groups.

Learn more about Vermont and how other states are developing their Infant, Toddler, and Early Childhood Mental Health Systems in ZERO TO THREEs paper.

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