Mental health applies to not only adults, teens and children, but even to infants and toddlers. “A lot of people don’t think babies have mental health,” said Shannon Bekman, director of Right Start for Colorado at the Mental Health Center of Denver. “Infant mental health is a foreign concept to most people.”
That’s why Right Start for Colorado works to spread knowledge of the birth to 5 population’s unique needs. The team is developing a statewide infant/early childhood mental health workforce and recently presented their efforts at the World Association for Infant Mental Health’s 17th World Congress.
“We’ve done so much work. And it’s exciting to be able to share that on a world level,” said Director of Right Start for Colorado Shannon Bekman.
Organizations in other states have contacted Shannon to learn from what Right Start for Colorado is doing.
Developing a Statewide Infant Mental Health Workforce
Young children interact with many different systems and sectors, such as healthcare or early childhood education. So, the workforce developed by Right Start for Colorado isn’t solely clinicians, such as mental health specialists and psychiatrists. It involves other “allied” professionals as well, which includes first responders, child welfare professionals, policymakers, pediatricians and primary care providers.
Since the program began in 2018, Right Start for Colorado has conducted trainings with nearly 300 clinicians and more than 600 allied professionals.
The trainings have given clinicians specific knowledge in evidence-based treatments. So, they are able to provide more comprehensive services when it comes to very young children. In addition, by educating allied professionals, the team has increased awareness of infant mental health among non-clinical professions. For example, when a fireman or police officer responds to a traumatic event – such as a parent being put in handcuffs or getting into a police car with flashing lights – and a baby is present, they can provide better support if they are knowledgeable of babies’ unique mental health needs.
“Our trainings are increasing awareness of infant and early childhood mental health, what it involves, and why someone would refer a child to clinical treatment services from the allied sector,” Shannon said. “That helps get children referred to clinical services who need them.”
And the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed the team down. Instead, Right Start for Colorado was able to reach more individuals across the state through virtual learning. The team plans to keep some trainings virtual and offer in-person sessions as well in the future.