Child health is about more than growth charts

Published 9:20 am Thursday, May 13, 2010

Research shows that early identification and treatment of social and emotional concerns promotes healthy development. What happens in early childhood can shape a child’s future. Eighty-five percent of core brain development occurs in the first three years of life. Young children’s social and behavioral competence predicts their academic performance in the first grade even more than their cognitive skills and family backgrounds.

This year, Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month focuses for the first time on early childhood. Across the country, communities are getting the word out that children and youth with mental health needs and their families can thrive when provided with effective services and supports to meet their needs. The goal is to raise awareness among everyone connected with nurturing children’s social and emotional well-being from birth. Addressing children’s mental health needs early improves their chances to succeed in school and beyond.

Minnesota’s message is: “It’s more than … heights, weights and growth charts. Children’s mental health matters.”

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Mental health screening can detect early signs of possible mental health problems in children. It is a short, simple, first step to discovering when a child may need further diagnosis and treatment.

Troy Hanson, a Minnesota family medicine physician, stated, “Early childhood mental health screening is our first and best shot to immunize against social, emotional, and behavioral health problems and boost lifelong mental resilience and adaptive capacity.”

Screenings usually occur in places that are accessible and appropriate to the needs of children and families. Such settings include primary health care, home visiting, Head Start and early childhood education. Children’s checkups are opportunities for health providers to partner with parents in looking for and discussing the milestones of a child’s social and emotional development from birth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported, “One of the most efficient ways for health care professionals to improve the recognition and treatment of psychosocial problems in children and adolescents is by using a mental health screening test.”

The screening process also provides families with information about early childhood development and available services and supports. The Minnesota Parents Know website ( contains developmental resources and referral information for parents and providers. Intervening as early as possible is more effective than waiting.

May is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

In January of 2007, Freeborn County Family Service’s Collaborative Early Childhood sub-committee was chosen as one of six pilot sites in the state for the Thrive Initiative. The Thrive Action Team continues to plan and implement strategies which are making amazing differences in the lives of children and families in Freeborn County. Thrive’s mission is to promote the healthy social and emotional development our youngest children. For more informaiton on this initiative please visit the Thrive website at

If you have concerns about the mental health of your child or children ages 0 to 5, please contact the Early Childhood Behavior Specialist Team, which is sponsored by the Freeborn County Family Services Collaborative. Consultation and screenings are free to any Freeborn County family. Call 373-4930.

This month is a reminder to parents to play with their children, talk with their children’s doctors and screen their children for health, physical and social-emotional concerns. Children’s early years provide early opportunities to nurture their healthy development.

Alice Englin is the coalition director for Freeborn County Partners In Prevention, working to reduce substance use and abuse among youth in Freeborn County.