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.

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