Early Childhood Mental Health Is Key To Georgia Kids’ Success
A strong foundation supports healthy brain development and long-term public safety & national security
Early childhood mental health (ECMH) is the developing ability of young children (ages 0-5) to form relationships with adults and peers; experience, express, and manage a range of emotions; and explore the environment and learn. Warm, responsive interactions with caregivers (parents, other family members, early care and education teachers) are necessary for children’s brain development and ECMH. For example, when infants experience distress and cry, and adults respond by comforting the infants, they learn, over time, how to manage their emotions.
However, some families face challenges, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs; e.g., substance abuse, mental illness, violence). ACEs can derail early childhood development and lead to ECMH challenges. For instance, parental mental illness may render caregivers unable to participate in responsive relationships with their children. More than one-fifth (21 percent) of Georgia infants and toddlers experience ACEs; rates are even higher among children of color and those from families with low incomes. Nationwide, 9.5 to 14 percent of very young children have ECMH challenges.
ACEs and ECMH challenges have implications for community safety and national security, through their negative impacts on later school performance and behavior problems. To mitigate these impacts, Georgia policymakers must support evidence-based interventions designed to prevent and treat ECMH challenges. By preventing, identifying, and treating ECMH challenges, we can prevent the negative short- and long-term outcomes associated with these challenges, as well as enhance community safety and bolster national security in the long run.