Mental health is a crucial part of a person’s overall health and well-being. Early childhood mental health refers to the social, emotional, and behavioral well-being of young children and their families, including the capacity to experience, regulate, and express emotion, form close, secure relationships, and explore the environment and learn. Optimal mental health allows children to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults. For children, mental health challenges can impact their ability to access school or child care, develop peer relationships, and can have lifelong impacts.

During the last two decades, Vermont’s mental health system has seen a consistent increase in young children accessing many types of services from Designated Agencies, and a striking growth in the use of crisis services. In 2019, 265 children under the age of 9 used crisis services [1]. The Vermont Department of Mental Health defines crisis services as, “time-limited, intensive supports provided for individuals and families who are currently experiencing, or may be expected to experience, a psychological, behavioral, or emotional crisis.”

While the need for residential care is uncommon for young children, for some, programming aimed at behavioral change administered by qualified staff in a 24- hour residential setting is necessary. In 2019, thirty-five children ages 5-10 were placed in residential care [2].

Children exposed to trauma may develop mental health challenges. When a child’s ability to cope with trauma is overwhelmed and social-emotional difficulties emerge, practitioners will assess their situation using the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) tool. Of children assessed in Vermont, 89% have a history of trauma. Just over half report having a stable caregiver in their lives, while 40% report having a connection to their community [3].

The State Advisory Council prioritized Early Childhood and Family Mental Health for both 2019 and 2020 and has issued four Recommendations. The full ECFMH Task Force Report contains a parent perspective, a provider perspective, discussion questions, and graphics to help understand these complex systems.

Return to the Table of Contents for the 2019 How Are Vermont’s Young Children and Families? report.

1. Vermont Department of Mental Health (2019). Data provided by the VCP Data Repository
through the Department of Mental Health Interagency Planning Director.

2. ibid

Vermont Department of Mental Health (2019). Data provided by the Department of Mental Health Interagency Planning Director.