Research shows that early experiences, from age 0 to 5, have a strong influence on a child’s developing brain, providing a time of great opportunity and vulnerability.
Recommendations of the NCIOM report include:
- Creating a coordinated, integrated system to meet the social-emotional and mental health needs of young children and their families;
- Promoting awareness and understanding of the importance of young children’s social-emotional and mental health:
- Improving treatment to meet the social-emotional and mental health needs of young children and their families;
- Developing the professions that work most closely with young children, especially early educators and health care practitioners.
The North Carolina Institute of Medicine has posted the full report
online. For more information on NCIOM, visit http://nciom.org
Locally, these findings and recommendations are consistent with the work of a community-based collaborative known as Zfive, under the direction of John Ellis, Ph.D., Zfive coordinator and director of Mecklenburg County Children’s Developmental Services.
“Stable and nurturing relationships with primary caregivers form the foundation for the development of social-emotional health in young children,” Ellis said. “In the absence of these, research shows that the very architecture of the brain is affected in ways that interfere with healthy emotional development.”
Zfive is a team of clinicians, researchers and program managers from both the public and private sector who are dedicated to improving the lives of children, birth to five, with mental health issues and their families. Representing more than 25 organizations, the five-year-old group meets monthly to share information, build and implement new initiatives evaluate progress and support each other on issues of shared concern.
“An extensive body of scientific research has shown us that developing positive social-emotional and mental health in those early years – from zero to five – is key not only to future success but simply to healthy development,” said Pam Silberman, president of the NCIOM. “Significant adversity in early childhood, including trauma, abuse, living with a parent with a substance use disorder, or being raised in persistent poverty, can, if left untreated, leave scars that literally last a lifetime.”
Ellis said it’s not typical to think of babies and toddlers as capable of having mental health problems, but it is a real concern.
“We know that even as infants, children are capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions,” Ellis added. “How we respond to their basic needs for nurturance affects their developing ability to experience, regulate and express emotions, form close interpersonal relationships, and explore their environment and learn.”
National research shows that between 10-14 percent of children ages 0-5 have mental health problems severe enough that they have trouble functioning. In North Carolina, that equates to about 91,000 children. For preschoolers, the rates are doubled when the factors of poverty, maternal depression, substance abuse, domestic violence or foster care are added.
“Unfortunately, not all children experience the nurturing environment that they need to develop these skills,” Ellis said. “Many children grow up experiencing chronic and toxic stress. Fortunately, research indicates that early intervention with these children and families work to help reverse the effects of early toxic experiences.”
For more information about Zfive, visit www.zfive.org
, or contact John Ellis, Ph.D., at 704-336-7107 or at email@example.com