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, Vermont’s Early Childhood and Family Mental Health Competencies, over a 4-year period, presenting a final version in 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 workgroup 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. 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). It takes approximately 12-18 months to earn the credential, while you are employed. During that time, applicants work individually and in a group with a Reflective Practice Consultant (RPC) and create a professional portfolio documenting their competence. Once a cohort is formed and approved, Northern Lights continues to provide technical assistance to the candidates and the agencies involved. The competencies and the credential are based on six competency or Core Knowledge areas: philosophy and professional orientation, family systems, child development (ages 0-8), child assessment, addressing challenges, and systems resources.

There are numerous benefits of this credential, including but not limited to: gaining additional skills and knowledge in working with young children birth to 8 and their families; the ability to earn the credential while you work; and the opportunity to reflect on the accumulated experience, training, and education. Additionally, employers and the Child Development Division (CDD) value professionals with the credential and will pay a Recognition Bonus to eligible professionals who earn it. The credential is also recognized by the Children’s Integrated Services as meeting their job requirements.

Learn more about Vermont and other states in ZERO TO THREE’s paper, Infant, Toddler, and Early Childhood Mental Health Competencies: A Comparison of Systems.

Reviewed July 2018.

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