By Hannah Korn-Heilner
ACNJ Outreach and Policy Associate
Last week, in partnership with the New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health (NJ-AIMH) and Montclair State University’s Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health, ACNJ participated in Celebrate Babies Week, a national initiative highlighting the mental health needs of young children. This year, our theme was “Early Relational Health: It’s Everyone’s Business.” Throughout the week, ACNJ and our partners engaged families, professionals and policymakers around the state to call attention to the needs of our youngest children. Here are ten takeaways:
- Babies have mental health needs too! “I didn’t even know babies could have mental health issues,” Assembly Women and Children’s Committee Chair Gabriela Mosquera remarked at last Thursday’s hearing focused on this topic. And she’s not alone. Babies are often left out of the conversation, yet supporting an infant’s social and emotional growth can have a profound effect on their lives as adults. Watch the NJ Spotlight video on the hearing.
- It’s about relationships. Healthy emotional well-being grows from positive connections between babies and their caregivers. These safe, stable and nurturing relationships create an environment in which babies develop the capacity to express emotions, develop relationships and explore. Watch a recording of the webinar presented by Dr. Kaitlin Mulcahy Director at CAECMH focused on Early Relational Health (Passcode: ERH2022! ).
- It takes a village. From child care providers to home visitors, doulas, policymakers and, of course, mental health clinicians, we can all do our part in supporting the mental health of babies. On Wednesday, we held a career and networking night. Didn’t get a chance to join? Visit the New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health.
- A mother’s wellness directly affects the baby. From not having enough time off to recuperate after giving birth and bond with the baby, a lack of support for maternal mental health, difficulty breastfeeding in the workplace, the rising costs of diapers and the continued struggle to find formula, parents have a lot on their plate – all while trying to mentally and physically be present for their children. Participants at ACNJ’s Dine and Discuss virtual meeting on infant mental health highlighted how there needs to be stronger programs and policies to better support families.
- Wraparound services at pediatrician’s offices work. HealthySteps is a model being piloted in New Jersey that places a specialist, usually a licensed behavioral health provider, in a pediatric office to address family needs and connect families to services and resources. This removes the burden from parents having to navigate an often complicated mental and behavioral health system. Read about why we should expand this program throughout the state.
- New Jersey should be making it easier - not harder - for families to access services as early on as possible. Often, a formal diagnosis is required for insurance to reimburse for mental health services. This prevents families from accessing services until the need is significant. The stigma of a diagnosis also deters many from even seeking treatment. Check out our blog on creating a preventative behavioral health benefit.
- Your advocacy is critical! Last week, mother Karma testified about the importance of the HealthySteps program. We need more champions like her! New Jersey has a Congressional Election on November 8th - check out our guide to find out who is running.
- There’s a hotline for professionals working with young children. Last year for Celebrate Babies Week 2021, we highlighted the SEFI program, which provides consultants for child care programs that need help supporting the emotional and behavioral needs of their young children. This year, CAECMH launched a Quick Connection hotline for professionals working with young children. Learn more.
- Early Relational Health is everyone’s business. Ensuring that young children and their families have the services and resources they need is not only good for our society, but it’s just good business! And for every dollar invested there is a return of $3.64
Early relational health remains an important factor in the healthy development of infants. Everyone - from parents, to providers, to policymakers - plays a role. Follow ACNJ for more information on this and other ways you can advocate for babies in New Jersey.