What is the Mental Health Consultant’s Role?

What is the Mental Health Consultant’s Role?

baby girl

Early childhood mental health consultants are professionals with mental health expertise who also have knowledge, and experience related to working with young children (birth to five) and their families. Some mental health consultants, referred to as infant mental health specialists, have specialized training in working with families and very young children, birth to three years (see Infant Mental Health Specialists and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation). All early childhood who work with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers have similar roles.

Early childhood mental health consultants promote healthy growth in young children’s social and emotional development by guiding and supporting the caregivers and parent’s in the child life to recognize, understand and support social and emotional development. An early childhood mental health consultant needs to have a firm grasp of social and emotional milestones and support strategies so they are confident and competent in modeling and coaching others to use similar practices. Early childhood mental health consultants can help identify and work in partnership with families and caregivers to remediate problems that surface. By understanding the characteristics of development and what is typical for children at different ages, mental health consultants can help families, caregivers, and teachers nurture each child’s growth. They can also assure worried parents that certain behaviors are a normal part of growing up.

Alternatively, mental health consultants should be able to recognize and respond sensitively to any potential concerns regarding a child’s social and emotional development. When problems arise, early childhood mental health consultants can be a valuable resource for children and families. ECMHC can facilitate support and planning, for young children at risk of or experiencing social and emotional concerns in partnership with the child’s family and caregivers. When a young child demonstrates concerning behavior that does not dissipate and is frequent in nature than the early childhood mental health consultant may refer the child and his family to appropriate outside services such as community mental health or Part C services for further evaluation.

Every child has her own unique pace of social and emotional development which is nurtured by her parents and caregivers. However, there are milestones in children’s social and emotional development which are usually accomplished during specific age ranges. These milestones along with accompanying tips to support children’s growth will be described and discussed in Modules Two through Four.

Questions for reflection:

  1. How do I explain social and emotional health to the families and caregivers I support? How can I be more effective? List some good ideas for helping families and caregivers understand the social and emotional health of young children.
  2. Do I take the time to learn about a child’s environment, family and the child themselves before making any recommendations for services or support strategies? If not, what could I do to strengthen this area?
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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.