Beginning as early as infancy, children can and do experience mental health conditions/disorders. Some disorders that occur in young children include adjustment disorders, AD/HD, anxiety disorders, depression, fetal alcohol syndrome disorders, reactive attachment disorder, pervasive developmental disorders (including autistic disorder and Asperger's syndrome), post traumatic stress disorder, regulation disorder of sensory processing, and Tourette syndrome.
Fortunately, help is available. One local professional, Maureen McGuire, LGSW, Youth & Family Services, explains what she does to help young children with mental health concerns and their families, and how identification and treatment are progressing
In what capacity do you work related to early childhood mental health services?
I work within the Pillager Elementary school. At our school we have Head Start through sixth grade in the elementary wing. I provide prevention and early intervention services to the three-year-old Head Start children. I also target a Head Start child who needs support, advocacy and social skill development due to attachment issues. I teach Second Step to the four-year-old Head Start class. Second Step is an anger management, empathy and problem-solving curriculum for children pre-K to sixth grade.
During early childhood screening, I meet with parents to review the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social Emotional (ASQ:SE). The ASQ:SE screens children for mental health and behavioral issues and gives parents an opportunity to discuss their child's behavior. This year I am also supervising an intern who is receiving her master's in social work. She reinforces and teaches social skills to three-year-olds at the Pillager Family Center preschool.
Are you part of a bigger movement, and if so, what is that?
I think I am part of a bigger movement. The movement towards early childhood mental health services started due to the awareness that young children can have mental health issues. We can easily pick out young children with mental health issues in a preschool environment. Instead of just teaching pre-academics, many preschools have started teaching/treating the whole child. Children receive an educational approach that looks at the child and his/her surroundings and makes a huge impact.
Do you see more children being helped now and if so, do you have a few examples?
I see more young children receiving mental health services each year. The Collaborative Service Worker at the Learning Center in Brainerd works exclusively with young children and there are therapists at Nystroms and Northern Pines doing play therapy with preschool children.
Do you see early childhood mental health as an area that's getting more attention/resources than it used to?
I do see early childhood mental health as an area that is getting more attention. All early childhood programs are gaining attention. For example the Initiative Foundation has established early childhood coalitions which provide an array of services to young children and their families. Therapists are now willing to work with young children and their families. When I moved to the Brainerd Lakes area there were three therapists that would treat preschool children and they all had long waiting lists. Now, there are more mental health professionals willing to treat young children and they seem more available. Preschool teachers are also aware of children's mental health issues and willing to talk with parents about their concerns. Head Start has mental health professionals on their staff to assess children and provide referrals for families.
The Crow Wing County Local Advisory Council on Children's Mental Health contributes this monthly column.
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