Voices from the Field

Voices from the Field is a place for administrators, teachers, school support staff, community, and family members to learn what experts -- researchers, practitioners, family -- from across the country think by reading a short post that includes the latest promising practices on a range of school climate topics, along with references and related resources.

Which strategy is most important in addressing social emotional & behavioral health needs of young children?

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men [or women].” – Frederick Douglass

What the Research Tells Us

Approximately one in five children in the U.S. has behavioral health problems. Approximately 9 to 14 percent of all young children, from birth to age five, experience social and emotional problems that negatively affect their functioning and development. These issues can be prevented.

The importance of a child’s early experiences, both positive and negative, is well established in early childhood research. Good health is the foundation for proper physical, cognitive, social and emotional growth. Therefore, intervening early to detect developmental and behavioral problems prevents long-term risks.  And using appropriate intervention services to address the mental, health, social, and educational needs of the child and family is crucial in his or her development.

The capacity to learn, explore, build relationships, and express and control emotions is developed within healthy and caring relationships with families and safe and supportive childcare environments. Such interactions facilitate the development of interpersonal skills and a healthy self-image which contribute to success in navigating both personal and educational challenges later in life. Research shows that children with safe and supportive home and learning environments demonstrate “increased literacy, better peer interactions, fewer behavior problems, and more motivation and persistence.” Conversely, failure to mitigate adverse early childhood experiences, such as poverty, abuse, or neglect, can impair healthy brain development, increasing social costs by exposing children to greater risk of academic failure (e.g. dropping out, juvenile delinquency) and physical (e.g., heart disease) and mental health problems (e.g., substance use disorders).

What Can Be Done

As a growing interest and greater focus is paid to Pre-K/Elementary School, including expanding pre-kindergarten, it is important to remember that proper groundwork for healthy child development be laid to bring those promises to fruition. This means that states, districts, and communities need to work collaboratively with families in a strengths-based manner, using a capacity building framework to both (a) form protective factors in young children that promote healthy social, emotional, behavioral, physical and cognitive development and (b) prevent risk factors that jeopardize children from reaching their full potential. 

Project LAUNCH, a grant program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), works with cross-agency partners, communities, and families to lay the necessary groundwork for healthy child development and reduce the social costs of unfulfilled academic needs, justice system involvement, and a less skilled workforce. Project Launch works “to increase the quality and availability of evidence-based programs, improve collaboration among child-serving organizations, and integrate physical and behavioral health services and supports for children and their families” through five prevention and promotion strategies:

  • Screening and assessment in a range of child-serving settings
  • Integration of behavioral health into primary care settings
  • Mental health consultation in early care and education
  • Enhanced home visiting through increased focus on social and emotional well-being
  • Family strengthening and parent skills training

The project’s collaborative work across service sectors, including child health care, early care and education, and family supports to identify children at risk for developmental or behavioral challenges and connect families to programs and services contributes to our nation’s ability to build an educated, healthy, competitive citizenry and workforce. To learn more, visit the Project LAUNCH website at: http://projectlaunch.promoteprevent.org/

Archived Webinar: Early Childhood Prevention: Project LAUNCH

American Institutes for Research

U.S. Department of Education

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