Defining Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation

Defining Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation

Woman helps preschooler wash hands

In 1999, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded funding to the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development (GUCCHD) to explore key questions about early childhood mental health consultation, including the most basic: “What is it?” Through a roundtable discussion with early childhood mental health experts, the group came to consensus on the following definition:

“Mental health consultation in early childhood settings is a problem solving and capacity-building intervention implemented within a collaborative relationship between a professional consultant with mental health expertise and one or more individuals with other areas of expertise, primarily child care center staff. Early childhood mental health consultation (ECMHC) aims to build the capacity (improve the ability) of staff, families, programs, and systems to prevent, identify, treat and reduce the impact of mental health problems among children birth to age 6 and their families.” (Cohen & Kaufmann, 2000, p.4)

Over time, the definition has been slightly modified to emphasize the need to collaborate with family members as well as child care providers. Still, the core elements of the definition have remained unchanged:

  • An intervention designed to improve child outcomes through enhancing caregivers’ abilities
  • Focused on young children in early care and education settings and their caregivers
  • Dependent upon collaborative relationships between the consultant and consultees

In addition to offering a concrete definition of ECMHC, the roundtable discussion provided guidance on essential features of consultation as well as challenges and strategies in the consulting process. This information, detailed in Cohen and Kaufmann’s monograph titled Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (2000), became a valuable resource for those seeking to implement consultation services in their states and communities.

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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.