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Childhood mental health is in crisis nationwide, with rising rates of anxiety and depression in children for over half a decade. The problem predated the COVID-19 pandemic, but has grown in magnitude since. For a new problem, CHCF is trying a new strategy for the first time in its 41-year history as an organization: a full-time dedicated mental health team.

“Consultation has been shown to improve children’s social skills and emotional functioning, promote healthy relationships, reduce challenging behaviors, and reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions,” said Marilyn Monroy, CHCF’s Mental Health Project Manager. “And for providers, it reduces stress, burnout, and turnover.”

CHCF first began its Infant-Toddler Mental Health work in 2020 with funding from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and support from the Early Care & Learning Council. With additional funding from the Robin Hood Foundation in 2021, CHCF established a team of four full-time mental health professionals to work on behalf of the city’s infants and toddlers.

In order to make the biggest impact, the consultants work with the people who stand to have the biggest impact on Infant-Toddler wellbeing: child care providers. Mental health services are a new territory for many providers, who often aren’t used to incorporating this sort of care into services for such young children.

“The main challenge for providers is accepting that this needs special attention, and that they must seek help to manage it,” said Isirakaida Alviarez, one of CHCF’s mental health consultants. “Families and providers have begun to recognize their emotions and feelings, their socio-emotional development — especially children — has improved remarkably, and interpersonal relationships are becoming healthier and more empathetic.”

All of the problems facing children across the country are amplified in under-supported neighborhoods, where families have fewer access to resources, and face increased anxieties about allowing children to play freely in their neighborhoods. These anxieties and structural difficulties have contributed to a nationwide crisis in paying and retaining child care workers.

“Each day that goes by, families of color have limited accessible resources and professional development to reduce educator burnout,” said Carin Leiva, another one of CHCF’s mental health consultants. “It’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about supporting families using my bilingualism and love for early childhood education to my best ability.”

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