New Jersey’s Future Depends on Supporting Healthy Social-Emotional Development of Babies
Why Infant-Toddler Social-Emotional Health Matters
- The first three years of life, when brain connections form at the rate of more than 1 million new neural connections per second, are crucial for a baby’s social-emotional development, also known as infant mental health.
- Parents and caregivers influence babies’ brain development right from the start. Children who feel safe and loved and have the freedom to play form more brain connections, which increases their ability to trust, relate, communicate, and learn.
- As early as three months, well before a baby utters his or her first words, babies experience a whole range of emotions like joy, sadness, anger, interest, and excitement. Positive interactions during this time of rapid brain development can impact a baby’s future social and emotional development and help them thrive as adults.
- Screening babies for healthy social-emotional development is important because negative experiences can have a harmful impact on a baby’s growing brain and their emotional health. Children who experience traumatic events at an early age, known as adverse childhood experiences or ACEs, are exposed to stressors that can lead to learning difficulties in school, and physical and mental health issues throughout life.
- Compared to other states, New Jersey’s Medicaid plan has uneven or inconsistent coverage for critical infant mental health services for babies, such as social-emotional screenings, mental health consultation services in early care and education settings, parent-child mental health treatments and maternal depression screenings. The state’s Medicaid plan should allow families access to critical mental health screenings and services to promote healthy social-emotional development.
- Infant mental health professionals are in short supply, preventing families from accessing the support and resources they need. The state needs to build a supply of well-trained infant mental health professionals so more families can have access to services.
- Infant and family professionals would benefit from specialized training and professional development to meet the needs of infants and toddlers and their families as early as possible.
- In New Jersey, 102,000 babies are born every year. We can help babies get what their growing brains need by integrating social and emotional development into all early childhood education, health and social service systems (i.e., home visiting, primary care, child care, child protection). A statewide system of infant mental health consultants is needed to provide services in all settings serving young children and their families.
The future begins with babies. It’s time New Jersey makes babies a priority and make meaningful investments to support the social-emotional health of babies.