Children's mental health
Early childhood mental health system of care

Early Childhood Mental Health Grants (PDF)

Advances in many areas of research, such as brain development, are showing that young children, including infants, can experience significant mental health problems. These studies confirm that the developmental journey towards positive mental health begins early, founded upon the first years of life. Studies have also found that children whose families experience stressors, such as parents with serious mental illness, families experiencing violence, families with histories of abuse and neglect, have the best outcomes when interventions focus on the entire family and not just the child.

  • • “Research has found that core brain development, 85 percent of which occurs in the first three years of life, shows differences in brain structure and function based on the child’s experiences in relationships with others and with their social context.” (From Neurons to Neighborhoods)   
  • • Studies show that infants four months or younger can experience depression.
  • • Young children in prekindergarten programs are expelled at more than three times the rates of students in grades K-12, while preschoolers in child care centers are expelled at over 13 times the rate.  
  • • “Stressful or traumatic childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, or growing up with alcohol or other substance abuse, mental illness, parental discord, or crime in the home … are a common pathway to social, emotional, and cognitive impairments that lead to increased risk of unhealthy behaviors, risk of violence or re-victimization, disease, disability and premature mortality.” (The Health and Social Impact of Growing Up with Adverse Childhood Experiences)
  • • Minnesota estimates that 17,565 children ages 0 – 5 have serious mental health needs.


  • DHS has worked with many agencies and communities to create an early childhood mental health system of care to meet the needs of the state’s children. This requires integrating services to include the many systems that serve young children and their families.

    Minnesota’s early childhood mental health system is creating a continuum of care and building infrastructure to get all children off to a great start.

    Creating a continuum of care

    DHS is designing a comprehensive range of mental health services and supports, from the least to the most intensive, to respond to all children’s needs.

    Prevention programs are available to all children in an effort to prevent the occurrence of mental health problems in children and families. The Minnesota Interagency Developmental Screening Task Force approves a list of developmental and social-emotional screening instruments to help primary care providers during Child and Teen Checkups identify social and emotional concerns in young children and connect them with local early intervention services. This encourages screening to become a routine part of pediatric preventive care and meets the need in the medical community for connections to early childhood mental health resources and referrals. The Help Me Grow website also supports families and providers in identifying developmental concerns in young children and connecting to appropriate resources.

    Early intervention services target children who show signs of risk for mental health concerns and focus on those factors that put children at further risk for developing mental health disorders. Early intervention can help stop problems from becoming worse. DHS works with the Departments of Education and Health to ensure children receive early intervention services through Part C. DHS is also working closely with the Minnesota Head Start Association to promote the use of evidence-based practices to reduce children’s aggression and behavior problems and increase their social competence at home and at school.

    Intervention services treat young children with diagnosed mental health conditions within the context of their families. DHS has trained and mentored more than 1,500 mental health professionals in the use of DC:0-3R, a diagnostic tool designed for children ages birth to age 4. DHS is also providing mental health professionals with training on evidence-based practices, such as Trauma Informed Child-Parent Psychotherapy for young children.

    Intensive intervention services, such as mental health targeted case management and day treatment, meet the needs of those young children with significant diagnosed mental health conditions. DHS coordinates with Minnesota health care plans and mental health providers to present a variety of intensive interventions.

    Building infrastructure

    The 2007 Minnesota Legislature approved funds to enhance early childhood mental health capacity and provide mental health services to young children, ages birth to 5, with a focus on uninsured and underinsured families. In August 2015, DHS awarded Early Childhood Mental Health Grants to create comprehensive mental health systems and services to meet the needs of their youngest children and their families. These grants strengthen infrastructure and support evidence-based, developmentally and culturally appropriate mental health services across a continuum of care to children, ages birth to five. Grantees will implement projects that include direct clinical and ancillary services, mental health consultation to childcare providers, and capacity enhancement.

    Related Links

  • Minnesota Builds an Early Childhood Mental Health System of Care
  • Outcome Measures
  • Training - Early Childhood Mental Health
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