California’s youngest children need more mental health support, funding request advocates say | State and Region
While California has committed billions of dollars to supporting the mental health of K-12 students, little has been specifically dedicated to children ages 5 and under.
Advocates say it’s a need that must be met, and they’re calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to set aside $250 million in the state budget to support the mental health of infants, toddlers, toddlers and toddlers. preschoolers and their parents and caregivers.
Children under 5 make up nearly a quarter of all Medi-Cal recipients under 21, but do not receive a proportionate share of health and mental health care compared to older youth, according to Children Now, an advocacy organization focused on the health and well-being of Californians. children. At least 43% of these children under the age of 5 had at least one adverse childhood experience. These experiences – including violence, abuse, or neglect – have been linked to chronic illnesses in later life and death.
“They’re very cute and lovable, so people don’t see any need beyond feeding and clothing them at this age,” said Lishaun Francis, director of behavioral health for Children Now. “Because they can’t talk about their needs, they can’t say ‘This makes me sad’ or ‘This isn’t a healthy attachment relationship.’ They can’t express themselves, so we take what they need for granted.
Children Now, along with more than 400 organizations, sent a letter to Newsom asking for $250 million over four years to fund organizations that provide mental health support primarily to low-income infants and toddlers and their families. . Advocates say providing support services early helps prevent children from experiencing adverse events, and if they have already experienced trauma, it can help them heal and process.
The money would also support training for childcare providers and other caregivers to ensure they have the skills to help prevent traumatic experiences. These skills include providing a nurturing relationship with children and helping to deal with trauma.
These needs have increased during the pandemic as children have experienced isolation, family stress related to finances and housing, and may have lost a parent or loved one to COVID-19.
Because infants and toddlers cannot express their feelings like an older child, it seems that they do not register stressful or traumatic events in the same way as older children.
But young children experience anxiety, stress, sadness and other trauma-related emotions and they rely on their caregivers to help them work through it all, said mental health expert Dr Chelsea Lee of Infant and Early Childhood at UC Davis. Care Center, a mental health clinic serving children who have experienced trauma and abuse.
If these experiences aren’t addressed or prevented early on, a child’s future can be marked by outbursts of anger, poor grades and the inability to have a relationship or keep a job, parents said. experts.
“The first five years are crucial for laying the foundation for lifelong functioning through adolescence, adolescence, adulthood and everything,” Lee said. “Early caregiving experiences and nurturing relationships are very important for young children.”
Last year, California launched the $4.4 billion Child and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative to rethink behavioral support for children. But the initiative does not directly address the needs of children under kindergarten age.
“We’re basically asking the state not to forget very small children, infants and toddlers,” with the current funding request, Francis said.
Putting resources into early intervention is vital for the health and safety of future populations, said Kelly Morehouse-Smith, director of family welfare for the Child Care Resource Center, which operates a home-based family support program in Los Angeles. Without intervention or support, issues like aggressive behavior or isolation show up in school and often impact learning, she said.
“Trauma doesn’t just stay from 0 to 5, it manifests throughout a person’s life,” Morehouse-Smith said. “If you don’t address it at all, the child hasn’t processed the trauma, doesn’t learn coping skills and what we see are behaviors that impact the school setting, social settings and family relationships.”
That’s why Elizabeth Lomeli, a para-educator at the Child Care Resource Center who does home visits to families, is worried about her own daughter. When her 8-year-old daughter, Gisselle, was around 4 years old, she witnessed many infighting within her extended family. Lomeli could not find resources for her daughter until she started school. It took Gisselle three years to start therapy.
“It affected her as she grew up – she wasn’t sure she could do things and worried about other people,” Lomeli said. “If she had received these services when she was young, she would have had this confidence and independence.”
Infants and toddlers are unique in how they show stress and trauma, and because they’re so young, outreach takes a bigenerational approach, Francis said. Parents and carers are part of the formula to ensure young children are healthy, safe and nurtured, she said.
The training also helps adult caregivers by giving them tools to help them deal with their own stress. It helps them understand the stages of childhood so they know why their baby is crying or what their toddler is capable of and helps connect families with other resources they may need. The ultimate goal, according to Francis and others, is to provide support and training that prevents adverse events from occurring in children in the first place.
“If families have the skills, training and access to resources, it can reduce instances of abuse and neglect,” said Deborah Kelch, acting executive director of First 5, who also advocates for the money. . “It has a strong preventative component in helping adults be there for children the best they can.”
Two years ago, the state launched the Aces Aware initiative, which includes training doctors, especially those who treat Medi-Cal patients, to screen children and adults for negative childhood experiences. . Since then, 500,000 children and adults have been screened and 62% report having had at least one adverse experience in their childhood. These experiences are considered potentially traumatic events and exposures that children experience. They include physical or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, and household dysfunctions such as divorce, substance abuse, or the incarceration of a loved one.
Lawyers and some lawmakers are lobbying the Newsom administration to include the money in the revised budget, which is due in May.
Democratic Sen. Josh Newman de Brea agreed that the state has not paid enough attention to the mental health of younger children. As an added benefit, he said the state could save money in the long run by helping young children directly rather than later when their problems are more serious.
“You can get a child on the right track early and you end up with a healthy child and a productive citizen,” said Newman, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Response. “If we don’t, we end up with fewer productive and healthy people.”
This article was originally published by CalMatters and has been republished with their permission. Learn more about their California state government coverage at CalMatters.org.