Investing in Infant Mental Health: Starting from Home

As a new parent or caregiver, you may be wondering how you can best support the social and emotional development of your young child. Infant mental health focuses on promoting healthy social and emotional development for children from birth to three years old. The foremost expert on Infant Mental Health, Zero to Three, explains, “Babies come into this world ready and wired to form relationships. From the moment of birth, children are forming connections, developing social responses, and learning about themselves and the world around them.” By providing stable, responsive, and nurturing care, parents and caregivers can help children develop the confidence, resilience, and emotional regulation skills necessary for success in the future.

There are so many incredible resources available through First 5 San Mateo County to support your child’s development in the earliest years of their life for free. Through Help Me Grow SMC, you can get a free Ages and Stages screening to make sure they are on track and help them get the skills associated with their stage of development. We help parents find child care that supports their child’s needs, through 4C’s, ensuring that every child has a safe and enriching learning setting. We keep children safe and help families heal from trauma through ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) screenings and CORA’s (Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse) services. Organizations like Family Connections, Star Vista, and Penninsula Family Services provide these services to specific populations, ensuring that children and families These are just some of the amazing resources that First 5 San Mateo County supports. There is so much we can do as a community, to ensure your family thrives. 

To understand how to use the resources available through First 5 San Mateo County, it might be helpful to understand how infant mental health impacts the community as a whole. First 5 San Mateo County and Zero to Three advocate centering infant mental health in all health, education, and policy initiatives that they advance. Promoting the social-emotional health of infants and young children has the potential to positively impact the trajectory of a child’s life. And funding infant and early child mental health programs is a solid investment. Each dollar invested into these programs returns $3.64 back in prevented treatments later in life. Mental health is a critical piece of your child’s health and wellness from the very first day of their life. More and more, supports are available that cater to your family’s specific needs.

One effective way to promote infant mental health is through home visiting programs. These programs are voluntary and bring experts directly to your home, providing services, referrals, and valuable information about early childhood development. Home visiting is a holistic support system that helps families overcome obstacles to health and well-being. Home visitors are warm and supportive resources who can answer questions, provide guidance, and ensure that parents feel confident and equipped to care for their children in the early days.

In San Mateo County, where we reside, there are 17 home visiting programs serving nearly 1,500 families. Our community prioritizes infant mental health, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we aim to expand access to home visiting programs for even more families in need. Through group interventions, parents, their infants and toddlers, and subject matter experts call all come together to learn from one another, share experiences, and grow together. Group programs like these, as well as individualized services, are important to building strong families and strong communities in San Mateo County. 

Investing in infant mental health and home visiting is an essential part of strengthening families and promoting success for all children in San Mateo County. We are committed to expanding program eligibility and flexibility to increase families’ access to home visiting programs, increasing funding for home visiting coordination, and enhancing continuity of care for families.

Developmental assessments and early intervention are a huge part of what it means to invest in your young child’s mental health. Early intervention services are specialized programs and therapies designed to support infants and young children who may be at risk for or experiencing developmental delays or mental health challenges. These services aim to identify and address any concerns as early as possible, maximizing the child’s potential for healthy development. First 5 San Mateo County and our partners support early childhood mental health through free Ages and Stages Questionnaires and Social Emotional screenings. Then, they help parents find support that works for them. This could include anything from occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, or any other early intervention services. 

Expanding investments in infant mental health is a promise to the future of San Mateo County’s children. This effort advances equity and offers high-risk families significantly greater access to resources that can change their children’s lives from an early age. If you are a new parent or caregiver, consider using home visiting as a tool to support your child’s healthy social and emotional development. Let’s work together to invest in the future of all children.


5 Things We Love About Child Care

Child care is not just a necessity for working parents; it plays a vital role in our society as the backbone of our economy, enabling families to thrive. High-quality child care has far-reaching effects on our community and economy as a whole. There are so many reasons that we, as a community, love accessible child care. These five shed light on the importance of making sure there that our community has child care resources available for everyone that needs it.

High Quality Child Care Boosts Economic Growth:

Investing in high-quality child care has a positive impact on the economy. When parents can participate in the workforce confidently, productivity increases, and businesses thrive. An investment of $257.5 million in infant and toddler care (which is the estimated annual amount needed to make sure everyone in San Mateo County has the care they need, just take a look at the 2022 Child Care Needs Assessment) would yield $484 million in economic output.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, we saw the enormous impact on the economy when childcare was not available. The lack of accessible and affordable child care options during that time resulted in many parents, particularly mothers, reducing their hours or leaving the workforce altogether, which led to a significant loss in productivity and economic output. 

The child care industry itself generates jobs and contributes to economic growth. All this to say, an investment in child care is not just an investment in families, but also in the overall San Mateo County economy, and we love that!

High Quality Child Care Empowers Working Parents:

Accessible and high-quality child care empowers working parents, especially mothers, to pursue careers without compromising their children’s well-being. Time and time again, it has been shown that women’s labor force participation increases with access to reliable child care, leading to greater financial independence and career advancement. Closing the child care gap enables parents to contribute fully to the workforce while providing a nurturing environment for their children, and we love to see parents and children thriving!

High Quality Child Care Fosters Social Equity:

Ensuring that everyone has access to high quality child care is essential for fostering social equity. Affordable and accessible child care allows families from all socioeconomic backgrounds to benefit from quality early education, creating more learning and development opportunities for all children. Research shows that children from lower income families who have access to quality child care are more likely to break the cycle of poverty. By ensuring that child care is affordable and available to all, regardless of income, we create a more equitable, inclusive community, where every child has an equal chance to succeed. Creating a sense of belonging for every single family in San Mateo is one of the most important ways that we, as a community can show love. 

High Quality Child Care Promotes Early Childhood Development:

Children benefit tremendously from high-quality child care– it fosters early childhood development and sets a strong foundation for future success. A study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that children who attended high-quality child care demonstrated better outcomes throughout their school years, and were more likely to graduate high school. A nurturing child care environment promotes cognitive, emotional, and social growth. It helps children develop their language skills, problem-solving abilities, and overall school readiness. Closing the child care gap ensures that all children have equal access to these critical developmental opportunities, and we love to see the youngest members of our community succeed throughout their lives!

High Quality Child Care Builds Strong Communities:

Accessible child care plays a crucial role in building strong and vibrant communities. Child care centers are frequently the hubs of our community, bringing families together and creating a support network. Communities with quality child care programs experience lower crime rates and higher civic engagement, contributing to overall community well-being. When children receive high-quality care during their early years, they are more likely to invest in the community that invested in them, becoming engaged citizens and neighbors, giving back to their communities for years to come. To us, that is the meaning of love! 

The benefits of accessible and high-quality child care extend far beyond individual families. By closing the child care gap, we empower working parents, promote early childhood development, foster social equity, boost economic growth, and build stronger communities. Recognizing the intersectional impact of child care allows us to appreciate the importance of investing in and ensuring access to quality c