The importance of focusing on Infant Mental Health in the Early Years

A typical week in England in 2013 saw 1,050,700 young children attending full-time day care, 47% were under the age of three. A further 313,100 were in sessional care, 39% were under three and there were 277, 500 with childminders (Department for Education, 2014).

With increasing knowledge about the impact of parental depression and early trauma on the mental health and wellbeing of our youngest children, it is vital that early years practitioners are full partners in this debate. Early Childhood requires a holistic approach across all services supporting families. This is of increasing importance for the period up to the age of three. With so many children in this age group receiving care outside the family, health, social care and Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) settings have to work in partnership with each other and families.

Our youngest children let us know how they feel through their behaviour; therefore the role of the ‘key worker’ in ‘holding infants in mind’ in the setting cannot be underestimated. Infants are unable to say how they feel; they show it through their behaviour. Consequently those working in ECEC need an excellent grasp of child development and infant mental health, alongside the skills to work effectively with parents and other professionals.

Infant Mental Health week (6–10 June 2016) gives the early years sector the opportunity to become active partners in the debates, audit what they know and do not know, think about new ways of working and ensure their staff can access confidential support.

The Early Years Professional/Teacher (0–5) should be key people in the setting who take a lead in this area; in fact should every setting should appoint an ‘Infant Mental Health Champion’, someone that ‘Holds the infant in mind’.

Dr Eunice Lumsden

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