A Call to Cultural Competence: The Science of Early Child Development and Mental Health

A Call to Cultural Competence: The Science of Early Child Development and Mental Health

Baby lying on back

An important benchmark in the field of early child development was the publication From Neurons to Neighborhoods (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000), a compilation of several decades of research in neurobiological, behavioral, and social sciences that led to major advances in understanding the conditions that influence the healthy development of infants and young children. The study’s review of the research revealed:

  1. The importance of early life experiences on brain and human development
  2. The central role of early relationships and the influence of culture on developmental outcomes
  3. The powerful capabilities of complex emotions and essential social skills that develop during the earliest years of life and
  4. The capacity to increase the odds of favorable developmental outcomes through planned intervention.

The continuing work of the Center for the Developing Child’s National Scientific Council (2008, 2009) also supports two core concepts of development that emerged from that publication and acknowledge the critical nature (and nurture) of culture:

  • All children are born wired for feelings and ready to learn through a dynamic and continuous interaction between biology and experience.
  • Early environments and nurturing relationships are essential; both of which are influenced by culture and reflected in childrearing beliefs and practices

This knowledge of the science of child development, the increasing diversity in the contemporary U.S. population, and the ongoing migration of immigrants and refugees reinforce the compelling need to focus on and respond to the role of culture in the development of young children. In addition, the design and implementation of early childhood policies and practices, including mental health services, must be examined through a cultural lens in order to ensure the appropriateness and effectiveness of services and intervention.

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This product was developed [in part] under grant number 1H79SM082070-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.