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Mental Health

Mental Health Services and Their Link to School Readiness:

Every Head Start program has access to a mental health consultant who helps support the emotional well-being of children and families.

Mental health consultants can help staff and families to:

  • Understand the meaning of children's behavior
  • Appreciate children's unique temperaments
  • Develop responsive caregiving approaches for each child
  • Access additional mental health supports for staff, children, and families

They are able to talk with families about typical child development and positive parenting techniques. They can help parents understand the need for predictable routines and address any mental health concerns they may have.

Additionally, mental health consultants help staff to create safe, stable, and secure environments to make it easier for children who have experienced trauma or toxic stress to focus on learning. Together these activities directly impact Approaches to Learning and Social & Emotional Development and indirectly impact all other domains.

Improve the effectiveness of health services and support school readiness by:

Helping children develop social-emotional skills that help them engage in learning.

  • Promote the social and emotional competence of all children birth to age 5 by helping them to develop the ability to:
    • Create and maintain strong, secure attachment relationships
    • Regulate their emotions and their behavior
    • Develop empathy
    • Use problem-solving skills
    • Recognize and label their feelings
  • Consider using the Pyramid ModelTouchpoints, and Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) strategies.

Using behavioral screening results to support children's social and emotional development and approaches to learning.

  • Use validated screening tools [PDF, 7.1MB] and provide or arrange for behavioral screening for all children.
  • Work with a mental health consultant and families to review screening results and child observations in order to develop individualized, culturally responsive behavior plans for young children who demonstrate persistent challenging behavior.
  • Refer children with significant challenging behaviors for mental health evaluation and support when appropriate.

Promoting reflective practices to guide children's optimal development.

  • Create opportunities for reflective supervision, supportive supervision, and professional development.
  • Offer training for staff to enhance nurturing caregiving and appropriate communication.

Developing a mental health education program for families and staff to encourage supportive, nurturing relationships.

  • Engage families in conversations about health screening information so that they understand and can follow up if needed.
  • Provide culturally competent mental health information for families and staff to support healthy child development and adult wellness.
  • Offer resources on stress management techniques to encourage self-care and responsive caregiving
  • Share information about local mental health and substance abuse resources.

Research Connections

Young children’s social and emotional skills are strong predictors of academic success in the first grade."1 Yet "between 9 percent and 14 percent of children from birth to 5 years of age experience social and emotional problems that negatively affect their functioning and development."2 These early challenges impact learning, social interactions, the development of self-control, emotional regulation, and can affect the overall well-being of their families.3 Research shows that early, responsive, nurturing relationships and supportive environments equip most young children with appropriate tools to enhance learning and school readiness.4



1Raver, C. C., & Knitzer, J. (2002). Ready to enter: What research tells policymakers about strategies to promote social and emotional school readiness among three-and four-year-old children. Promoting the emotional well-being of children and families. (Policy Paper No. 3). New York: National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. Retrieved from http://nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_485.pdf [PDF, 167KB]

2Brauner, C. B., & Stephen, B. C. (2006). Estimating the prevalence of early childhood serious emotional/behavioral disorder. Public Health Reports, 121, 303–310.

3Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Addressing the mental health needs of young children and their families. Retrieved from http://store.samhsa.gov/product/Addressing-the-Mental-Health-Needs-of-Young-Children-and-Their-Families/SMA10-4547

4Perry, D., Kaufmann, R, & Knitzer, J (2007) Building Bridges: Linking Services, Strategies, and Systems for Young Children and Their Families. In Perry, D., Kaufmann, R. Knitzer (Eds) Social and Emotional Health in Early Childhood Building Bridges Between Services and Systems. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes. pp.3-11.

Last Updated: June 5, 2018