Infant and early childhood mental health is a critical policy and investment priority

For Colorado’s 400,000 children under age 6 and their families, the urgency to focus on promoting early childhood mental health and social-emotional development couldn’t be greater. Longstanding systemic forces continue to drive inequities and stressors. Colorado child health insurance rates have declined, and the percentage of uninsured Black and Latino children is nearly double that of white children. Rates of low birth weight have increased, and rates of well-child visits and immunization status fell below the national median. In recent Early Milestones’ surveys, half of families were concerned about their young child’s social-emotional well-being and more than 1 in 4 were concerned about their child’s overall development. Additionally, thousands of Colorado children experienced the trauma of losing a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19, with children of color being particularly hard hit.

For more than a decade, Colorado partners have been focused on improving young children’s mental health. Yet, the programs and services supporting families with young children remain disjointed and span many state agencies, including the Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF), and the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA). To support development of a shared system vision that articulates a comprehensive continuum of services that meets the needs of all Colorado children and families, Early Milestones will revisit two landmark efforts: ‘Early Childhood Mental Health’ (2013), an environmental scan with investment recommendations for improving the social and emotional health of Colorado’s children; and ‘Young Minds Matter’ (2015), a visionary document for supporting the mental health of Colorado children through policy change. By documenting progress and highlighting remaining opportunities, this project aims to reinforce infant and early childhood mental health as a critical policy and investment priority.