National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day


Thursday, May 10, 2018

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is Thursday, May 10, 2018! This annual event raises awareness about the importance of children’s mental health and its impact on their healthy development.

Mental Health and Head Start

Early childhood mental health is a child’s growing capacity to experience, regulate, and express emotions. For children birth to 5 years of age, early childhood mental health is the same as social and emotional development. Head Start and Early Head Start have a long-standing partnership with mental health consultants and community professionals to promote the well-being of children, families, and staff in the program.

Awareness Day 2018

The national theme for Awareness Day 2018 is Partnering for Health and Hope Following Trauma. It will focus on the importance of an integrated approach to caring for the mental health needs of children and families who have experienced trauma. The Office of Head Start and the Office of Child Care will highlight best practices that support resilience for this year’s Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Look for more details about opportunities to participate in the coming weeks.

More than 1,100 communities and 160 national collaborating organizations and federal programs will organize local Awareness Day activities and events around the country. Learn more about Awareness Day 2018 and how you and your community can get involved at

Interested in planning an awareness day event at your program? Read about activities that communities across the country held for National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day 2017 at

Promoting Social and Emotional Development: Four New Resources for Communities and Families with Young Children

January 18, 2017

By Kara Dukakis, Libby Doggett, and Shantel E. Meek

All children are born with the need and desire to connect with those around them. Neuroscience tells us that brain development unfolds rapidly in the first three years of life, and that social and emotional development begins in the earliest days of life. When children feel secure in their relationships and have their needs met in responsive and consistent ways, they begin forming a strong social and emotional foundation. They begin to learn to pay attention, regulate their emotions and behavior, express feelings, and overcome challenges successfully. All of these skills contribute to healthy social and emotional development.

The way in which children experience and manage their feelings and emotions depends a great deal on the relationship with their primary caregiver(s) and other important adults in their lives. The environments where children spend their time – whether at home or in an early learning setting – also affect children’s social and emotional development. Social and emotional development involves several inter-related areas, including social interaction, emotional awareness, and self-regulation.[1]

Social and emotional and cognitive development are interwoven from birth and unfold together. Unsurprisingly, social and emotional development is also closely intertwined with academic success. Learning- especially in the earliest years of life- is inherently a social process. Children learn through and with the adults in their lives. A large body of research shows that children with a strong social and emotional foundation demonstrate stronger academic achievement, are more likely to graduate high school, go to college, and fare better on overall wellness and other positive long-term outcomes.[2] Positive social and emotional development carries important benefits for all children, including young children with developmental delays or disabilities.

Many parents and caregivers, as well as teachers and early learning providers, are eager for information and resources on how to connect with babies and toddlers, manage young children’s behavior,[3] and help children develop relationships, regulate their behavior and emotions, and talk about their feelings. When the adults in children’s lives have appropriate expectations of children’s development at different ages, they have greater success – and much less frustration – with young children.

Building on prior successful partnerships to promote early brain and language development and early STEM education, today, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education are joining with Too Small to Fail to release a Fostering Healthy Social and Emotional Development in Young Children Toolkit on social and emotional development. All of the resources feature examples of simple actions to take, some of which caregivers might be doing already, such as maintaining consistent routines for young children.

This set of resources on healthy social and emotional development includes:

  • A tip sheet for parents and families of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers
  • A tip sheet for infant, toddler, and preschool providers and educators
  • A milestones chart with key information on social and emotional development from birth to age 5
  • A fact sheet on the research behind social and emotional development in early childhood and lifelong outcomes
  • A “Let’s Talk About Feelings” poster

Every day, families and educators have opportunities to nurture children’s social and emotional, development through everyday interactions and easy-to-implement activities, such as those provided in the Toolkit. If we all provide supports for our children early in life, they will have the foundation needed to benefit for a lifetime.

Kara Dukakis is Director of Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and The Opportunity Institute

 Libby Doggett is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education

 Shantel E. Meek is Senior Policy Advisor for Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

[1] Social interaction focuses on the relationships we share with others, including relationships with adults and peers; emotional awareness includes the ability to recognize and understand our own feelings and actions and those of other people, and how our own feelings and actions affect ourselves and others; and self-regulation is the ability to express thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in socially appropriate ways.

[2] Jones, Damon E., Mark Greenberg, and Max Crowley. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal Public Health, 105(11), 2283–2290.

[3] Zero to Three, “Tuning In National Parent Survey” (2016).

All materials will be posted on the ECD website when they are 508 compliant. Please see additional resources at


Create a Culture of Acceptance and Kindness in a Challenging World: It all Starts in Your Early Childhood Program

2 – 3:30pm ET

Presenter: Jacky Howell

In a time where there seems to be many negative messages in the media and beyond, we in early childhood programs experience the effects on young children.  This webinar will share a variety of ideas and strategies to use in your programs that embrace a culture of acceptance and kindness.


  • Description and examples will be given defining a classroom that embraces a culture of acceptance and kindness.
  • Concrete strategies and ideas will be shared that participants can bring back to use in their settings.
  • Opportunity will be provided for question/answer.

Source: Early Childhood Webinars

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Federal Report Recommends Teaching Self-Regulation in Schools


A new federal report recommends that schools emphasize building children’s “self-regulation” skills in order to increase opportunities for student success in a number of areas. The recommendation is one of several in the report, the fourth in a series on self-regulation research and practice from the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Researchers have zeroed in on the importance of self-regulation skills, which allow children to manage their thoughts and feelings, control impulses, and problem-solve.

“Self-regulation affects wellbeing across the lifespan, from mental health and emotional wellbeing to academic achievement, physical health, and socioeconomic success,” said Desiree Murray, associate director of research at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and lead author of the report. “Unfortunately, prolonged or pronounced stress and adversity, including poverty and trauma, can delay children’s self-regulation development.”

Murray said the good news is research shows that interventions can improve outcomes for children from backgrounds of risk and adversity. Her research team, which includes Duke Center for Child and Family Policy’s Katie Rosanbalm and Christina Christopoulos, recommend embedding a focus on self-regulation in schools and other settings.

“For optimal self-regulation, a child or adolescent needs to have a full bucket of skills and supports on which to draw,” Murray said. “There are two crucial periods when children are developing their self-regulation skills the most—in early childhood and early adolescence—when teachers and parents can help them build the skills they need for the rest of their lives.”

Murray said many self-regulation interventions are designed for use in schools.

“Schools are an ideal place for interventions because there is opportunity to build skills in a cohesive approach from preschool through secondary school and because of the potential power of shared learning with peers,” she said. “Interventions in schools can impact the culture and climate in a way that benefits all students.”

According to the report, strengthening self-regulation can be thought of like teaching literacy. Similar to literacy, self-regulation develops with simpler skills first, which build upon one another.

Murray and her team outline a comprehensive approach to the development of self-regulation, which includes teaching skills through repeated practice and frequent feedback in a supportive context. They suggest providing universal interventions across childhood and into early adulthood, with a strong emphasis on teaching caregivers (including teachers and other school staff) how to support children.  She said the keys to this support are warm and responsive relationships, paired with positive discipline and consistency.

The report also recommends providing more intensive intervention to children who are experiencing self-regulation difficulties. In 12 elementary schools, Murray’s team is currently delivering and studying a small-group pull-out program teaching socio-emotional skills from “The Incredible Years.”

“Some children and youth may need additional supports, such as those provided by ‘Incredible Years’ programs,” Murray said. “These and other interventions may be particularly beneficial for youth who live in adversity, increasing children’s resilience to the negative effects of stress.”

Murray’s team based their report’s recommendations on two comprehensive reviews of research. “We capitalized on important recent findings from developmental neuroscience, and looked at a wide range of interventions that have been evaluated in the last 25 years,” she said.

The Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation in the DHHS’s Administration for Children and Families commissioned the report. Murray and Rosanbalm currently are developing a series of briefs to support use of their recommendations for different age groups, including new professional development for practitioners in the field.

Source: FPG Child Development Institute

Available at:

Measuring Child Outcomes in the Early Years


By W. Steven Barnett, PhD, Shannon Riley-Ayers, PhD, & Jessica Francis, PhD

As our nation increases public and private investments to support the care and education of young children, there is increased concern about how specific public policies affect children before they enter primary school. This desire to establish cause and effect and to estimate the magnitude of benefits to children’s learning, development, and wellbeing (LDWB) puts increased technical demands on assessment (discussed below). In addition, causal attributions require more than simply describing children’s development over time, it requires rigorous research methodologies that warrant strong causal inferences.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), partner to CEELO, was commissioned by OECD to provide a scholarly discussion paper that presented the pros and cons of various methods of and instruments used for reporting on international data of children’s cognitive and social outcomes. This report draws from the work for that paper to provide information to inform decision-making regarding the assessment of young children’s LDWB for state and national assessments designed to inform early childhood education (ECE) policy and practice. We include “wellbeing” because ECE should not merely be a means to improve a young child’s future success in school, or even life, but should enhance the child’s current quality of life. The primary focus here is on the preschool years. As there are many, many assessments available, this report does not review all of the individual assessments. Several much broader reviews with exhaustive compendia are already available such a publication from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (Snow & Van Hemmel, 2008). Instead, we describe and illustrate each of the general approaches from which policy makers can choose.

Source: Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes

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Social and emotional development: The next school reform frontier


As Congress wrestles with rewriting the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently better known as the No Child Left Behind law or NCLB), it is high time policymakers address a crucial aspect of K-12 school improvement that has long been given short shrift by legislators and educators–the social and emotional development of youngsters who chronically lag far behind academically. More than 30 years after the controversial A Nation at Risk report triggered successive waves of reform, America’s schools have unquestionably gained ground: achievement gaps along racial and ethnic lines have narrowed and high school graduation rates nationally are climbing. Yet progress in urban districts that largely serve low-income and minority students is still stalled.

The sobering statistics

  • As recently as 2013, half of black fourth-graders and 47 percent Latino fourth-graders scored “Below Basic” in reading according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “nation’s report card.” Minority youngsters, who will comprise a growing proportion of the U.S. labor force, suffer disproportionately from high suspension and grade retention rates, and they still drop out in droves.
  • Students who struggle perpetually in school often lack the social and emotional skills needed to succeed academically. They act out, interact poorly with teachers and classmates, pay scattered attention in class, and skip school.
  • Some educators view social and emotional development as peripheral. Others lack the time or energy to address it because of unrelenting pressure to improve test scores as mandated under NCLB.

On the bright side

  • Research and real-world experience convincingly show that interventions aimed at developing youngsters’ social and emotional skills boost their achievement levels and curtail behavioral problems.
  • Cost-benefit analyses demonstrate that these approaches produce significant benefits that appreciably exceed their cost.
  • For the sake of our children and society, we must invent—and invest in—a new educational paradigm. We urgently need public schools that that are devoted explicitly to the academic and social development of struggling students. This dual mission should drive the structure, curriculum and staffing of these schools.

Wise federal, state and local policy should reflect the reality of America’s children who remain left far behind. The smartest way to jumpstart school improvement is, at long last, to give social and emotional development its due in education policy, appropriations and practice. Congress should bear these empirically-validated and academically compelling policies in mind as they reauthorize NCLB.

Source: Brookings Institution

Available at:

Social-Emotional Learning & ECE Program Culture: How to facilitate resilience and inclusive culture, By Dr. Maurice Elias

Early Childhood Investigations Webinars

Time: December 16, 2015, 2:00pm to 3:30pm ET

Presenter: Maurice Elias

This presentation will focus on how early childhood education programs can systematically build social-emotional learning/emotional intelligence skills in young children and enhance program culture and climate.

While many nations, and states in the U.S., include social-emotional skills among their standards, there has been less emphasis on how to build those skills in sustained ways. That includes not only classroom instruction and routines, but also how parents are reached and addressed. This presentation will focus on the most relevant SEL skills for young children, how they can be developed in schools, and how educators can take a lead role in bringing parents along in their ability to become life-long promoters of their children’s SEL abilities. These strategies will improve school culture and climate to build an environment of inclusion for families, children, and staff. Specific techniques for emotion recognition and regulation, social awareness, empathy, problem solving, and relationship skills will be demonstrated via examples and videos. I will show how to improve school culture and climate, as well as children’s’ social-emotional development by integrating skill building into classroom routines (like circle time and moving into Centers), language/vocabulary (particularly emotion vocabulary), non-verbal cues (how to read stories’ pictures before text), reading (stories that older siblings and parents can read to young children to build their “EQ”), and parental follow through (how to foster “Emotionally Intelligent Parenting”). Opportunities for questions and follow up will be provided.

Source: Early Childhood Investigations Webinars

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Children with a Parent in Prison: The Forgotten Casualties


When we talk about crime, we usually focus on either the perpetrator or the victim; the perpetrator’s family and community are rarely discussed. But when a parent is sent to prison, it has consequences for their children.

In a recent report from Child Trends, my colleagues and I found that there are five million children in the United States who have had a parent that they lived with go to jail or prison—more than the total number of children in the entire state of New York. And the burden is not evenly divided. Those who are poor, black, and/or live in rural areas are more likely to see a parent imprisoned. Nearly 12 percent of black children have had a residential parent go to jail.

That experience has consequences. We found that children who have had an incarcerated parent are more likely to repeat grades or have a parent called in to talk about problems in school, and parents reported lower school engagement. Troublingly, the experience was also associated with other potentially traumatic experiences, such as frequent economic hardship, parental divorce, and living with someone who had a substance abuse problem. While it is not clear whether these problems are directly caused by parental incarceration, it is evident that these children need special attention and help.

The first places to help these children are their schools. Children with an incarcerated parent may need extra support, and schools can make efforts to identify such children and monitor their progress—although they should be careful not to further stigmatize them in the process. Schools can also provide counseling services and develop other programs to address the unique needs of this group.

Additionally, we help these children by addressing the way that we incarcerate parents. We can promote policies that make it easier and more affordable for incarcerated parents to stay in touch with their children. Prisoners are often housed far away from their families, making in-person visits costly and difficult to schedule. Even phone calls can be prohibitively expensive for prisoners and families alike. Providing local access to video conferencing technology is one option; simply reducing the rates for calls to family is another. Encouraging the continuation of positive family ties should be seen as an essential part of preparing incarcerated parents for success in their communities once they’re released.

In-person visits can also be traumatizing for kids. A visit is a visceral reminder of the parent’s situation, and can be potentially upsetting. However, there have been promising early results from programs that make visits more child-friendly. Waiting rooms with toys, streamlined security, and friendly meeting rooms may make the surroundings less intimidating and lighten the experience of meeting the parent.

We can also help parent prisoners make the most of the contact they have. One researcher has recommended five types of programs to serve incarcerated parents: education in parental skills, programs that provide extended special visits for children, child-friendly facilities for visits, parenting support groups, and custody services to aid with divorce proceedings and child support modifications. Most current programs fall into the first category, but there is little research on the most effective programs for this population. Creating more such programs, and studying their effects, should be a high priority. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services is currently funding such efforts in Washington State.

Of course, the most effective strategy is prevention. Finding alternative punishments for low-level offenders, so they can stay with their families and in their communities, may be the best thing for their children. Maybe if we consider the children that will be left behind, we can make better decisions about when—and if—to send a parent to prison.

Source: Child Trends

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Program for parents helps sustain learning gains in kids from Head Start to kindergarten


An instructional program for parents helps young children retain the literacy skills and positive learning behaviors acquired in Head Start and retain them through to the end of the kindergarten year, according to researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The program appears to offset what education researchers call “summer loss,” or the tendency of children to forget during summer break what they learned during the previous year.

Head Start is a federal program designed to improve school readiness among children living in poverty. In the current study, researchers evaluated the Research Based, Developmentally Informed Parent (REDI-P) program. The problem of summer loss has long been known to affect children of all ages, but it is especially pronounced among children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are just starting school.

The program is centered around home visits from educational counselors, who provide parents with materials, such as books and learning games, and coach them on how to use them.The materials reinforce the social and academic lessons, and preparations for kindergarten that the children learned in the Head Start classroom.

Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH)

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Bullying Prevention Month 2015: Have We Come To The End of This Policy Cycle?


It is hard to believe it is October again, our designated “bullying prevention month.” Typically at this time of year my inbox is full of requests for interviews or information on bullying and my Google newsfeed alerts ping hundreds of articles about the issue. Though these are still trickling in, somehow this year seems much slower than any in the past five. Perhaps it was the recent news that rates of bullying are down for students ages 12-18, or the fact that every state in the country now has an anti-bullying law (which, at least according to one recently released study, seem to have a positive relation to decreased rates of bullying). Whatever the reason, it seems like the once-widespread focus on bullying among school-aged youth seems to be fading.

In their pioneering book Tinkering Toward Utopia, David Tyack and Larry Cuban write that policymakers’ attention to a topic often follows public interest, for better and worse; tragedies or news stories can increase the likelihood of real action, but those chances wane when public attention fades. We have seen this already with bullying. The first panic about bullying followed a string of school shootings in the 1990s, reaching its peak with the Columbine massacre in 1999. But attention to bullying dwindled until the next panic involving youth suicides in 2010.

Despite the public’s seemingly short attention span, however, dedicated researchers, advocates, and policymakers took up the cause driving towards the progress we have seen to date. This relatively quiet bullying prevention month is the perfect time to reflect on our progress and plan for the next policy cycle, which will hopefully not be triggered by a tragic event like those in the past.

The last five years have been a firestorm for work on bullying. A simple Google Scholar search reveals over 9,000 publications since 2010 with “bullying” in their title. Everyone, from President Obama to Lady Gaga to Big Bird to Monica Lewinsky, has spoken up about bullying. Anti-bullying wristbands and posters are so commonplace now, it is almost more surprising to walk into a school and not see these types of campaigns. Bullying as an issue is so recognized now that it has lost much of the meaning that was once ascribed to it. As danah boyd has long argued, the term bullying often doesn’t resonate with today’s youth. Today, everything is bullying and yet nothing is bullying (and it doesn’t help that those of us who work on the issue can’t agree what it is, either). It comes as no surprise then that, after five years, there is a general malaise in the discussion.

But perhaps this is exactly where the conversation needs to be. As I have long argued, simply telling youth not to bully and raising awareness about the issue is unlikely to actually change the behavior. Instead the conversation now seems to have shifted to one that could have a real impact: building social and emotional skills in youth, addressing trauma, creating more positive school climates, and focusing on positive behaviors, rather than negative ones. By focusing on these protective factors, at increasingly earlier ages, we are more likely to impact bullying than awareness campaigns like bullying prevention month.

So as this bullying prevention month quietly continues, don’t despair that attention has been lost. Instead look towards the promise of the new policy cycles, new research, and new prevention efforts that might have the biggest impact of all.

Source: Child Trends

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