Early Childhood Mental Health for Kids and for the Family

Community mental health centers like Canvas Health are an important resource and safety net for the community. They provide services like mental health, substance use, and counseling, in addition to other important social services like sexual assault advocates, employment support, and housing. A benefit of bringing these services together under one organization is the ability for community members to receive support from trusted providers at every stage of their life. It also allows families the ability for all its member to get help at the same agency and even at the same time.

Early Childhood Mental Health

ECBA Program

Canvas Health’s Early Childhood Behavior Assistance (ECBA) program is our early childhood mental health unit. These providers receive special training for working with our youngest clients—ages 0-6—alongside their parents and siblings.

At those young ages, to work through problems a child might be having at daycare or at home it’s often very important for parents to help their child through therapy, and to themselves learn how best to help their child. Early childhood mental health units like ECBA are unique able to meet this needs.

ECBA began in 1998 with a county wide meeting of social service providers who were concerned children with behavioral disorders did not receive adequate treatment or support in Washington County. Canvas Health build the ECBA program to meet that need and to accomplish several clear goals:

  • Promote healthy social-emotional development in early childhood;
  • Promote stable, healthy families; and
  • Promote community capacity building in the area of early childhood mental health.

Every parent has struggles with raising children. Those struggles differ in every home, but in some cases they can be more severe, long-lasting, and dangerous and disruptive for the family. They require an early childhood mental health unit like Canvas Health’s ECBA.

Common situations ECBA team support parents through include:

  • At risk of or recently getting kicked out of their childcare or preschool setting
  • Aggression toward parents, staff, peers, and property. Aggression toward self. Opposition to authority figures. Unwilling to follow school routines. Hyperactive.
  • Safety and impulse control issues such as climbing out of bedroom windows, running into the street, running out of the house during the night.
  • Extreme irritability, intense tantrums lasting 1–2 hours, violent threats toward others.
  • Relationship/attachment concerns due to early orphanage neglect from international adoptions, multiple foster homes, parental neglect. Overwhelmed new adoptive parents.

Mental Health Assistance During COVID-19

But what does this look like and how has it changed during covid? How can a child and a family get help via video chat? We asked one of our ECBA therapists and they said:

Seeing young children and their families via telehealth has brought new challenges and obstacles. It has also allowed for creativity, flexibility, and connecting with families in new ways. Many families expressed that they felt doing telehealth in their home was more helpful since it felt like we could see more of the “real life” challenges they faced.

One family with two young children, expressed that engaging in services with the early childhood team has helped them to feel empowered in how to safely, consistently, and confidently handle their child’s “big” feelings and behaviors while continuing to build their relationship.

When starting services, their child struggled with following limits/directions, staying safe when experiencing “big” feelings, and lengthy, frequent emotional outbursts. Through learning and practicing skills to utilize to reinforce positive behaviors and ways to use selective attention in order to decrease negative attention seeking behaviors, they were able to enhance the parent-child relationship.

The family engaged in daily homework to practice their skills and weekly sessions to receive coaching, support, and psychoeducation on attachment, anxiety, and mental health in early childhood. Each week the parents were able to reflect on what their child’s behaviors were communicating and how they could respond in attuned, regulating, consistent, clear ways, through utilizing the tools they learned in therapy.

The parents and child were able to recognize their hard work in therapy resulted in their family feeling calmer, more connected, and safer.

Each year, ECBA serves over 100 children, 150 parents, and 150 siblings. Families consistently report improved relationships with their children and that they’ve learn other community resources to support their child and family.

People can need mental health support at all ages. But people also often benefit if important people in their lives, like parents or siblings, can help with their treatment and recovery. They just need to learn how.