In 2010, a diverse group of professionals met with one goal in mind: forming a North Carolina infant and young child organization to promote, advocate for, and train the early childhood workforce to meet the mental health needs of very young children. The first official meeting of this new organization was held on October 21, 2011, with a group of 27 people from across the state. In the months that followed the group approved bylaws developed with legal assistance from Duke University’s Community Enterprise Clinic, nominated and approved officers and Board members, and met all the requirements to become an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
Initially called the North Carolina Infant and Young Child Mental Health Association (NCIMHA), the organization has been supported and run for most of its history by an active Board and group of passionate volunteers and partners. NCIMHA had an early and ongoing focus on raising awareness about and advocating for infant and early childhood mental health, offering networking and training for professionals in the field, and working toward competencies and endorsement for a diverse array of early childhood professionals promoting, preventing, intervening, and leading within the field of infant and early childhood mental health.
Awareness and Advocacy
NCIMHA’s awareness and advocacy work began when the NC Early Childhood Advisory Council awarded funds to our organization 2012 to publicize the results of the NC Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) report titled Growing Up Well: Supporting Young Children’s Social-Emotional Development and Mental Health in North Carolina. NCIMHA hosted nine day-long learning and action workshops, reaching nearly 500 participants, across the state with the goal of bringing together these communities around the mental health needs of very young children and the recommendations of the NCIOM report.
Beyond these early efforts, NCIMHA’s board members have been continuously actively engaged in policy and advocacy efforts across the years. Major efforts and initiatives include:
- NCIOM Task Force on Essentials for Childhood
- NCDHHS Early Childhood Action Plan
- North Carolina Early Education Coalition’s ThinkBabies NC
- NC Child’s Early Well Initiative
- North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation’s Pathways to Grade Level Reading
Taking advantage of opportunities big and small to move their mission forward over the years, NCIMHA Board members have met with legislators about the mental health needs of very young children, presented within organizations serving infants, toddlers, young children, and their families, and forged partnerships to strengthen the early childhood systems.
Networking & Training
Since 2012, the NCIMHA has held well-attended annual conferences, typically with participation ranging from 250-400+ participants. Within these conferences NCIMHA has had the opportunity to host many nationally known speakers, such as Ed Tronick, Linda Gilkerson, Susan Spieker, Brenda Jones Harden, Rosemarie Allen, Chandra Ghosh Ippen, and others. In addition to the annual conference, NCIMHA continues to host and support a number of smaller trainings centered on infant mental health, including developing the “Nurturing the Brain: How to Buffer Stress Through Responsive Relationships” series.
The NCIMHA listserv was initiated in 2011 to facilitate cross-disciplinary communication and connection among professionals in the infant and early childhood mental health field. NCIMHA also maintains an active presence on Facebook, posting research, trainings, and information relevant to the field.
Workforce Development: Competencies & Endorsement
The NCIOM 2012 Growing Up Well report recommended that the NCIMHA take the lead in working with other state agencies to identify the training needs and address barriers to developing an effective, supported early childhood workforce prepared to identify and meet the mental health needs of infants, toddlers, and young children (ages 0-5). NCIMHA appointed a steering committee consisting of dedicated early childhood stakeholders to establish and lead this workforce development project. The steering committee obtained financial support from the Alamance Alliance for Children and Families (through SAMHSA federal grant funding), hired a part-time researcher to coordinate the work, and convened a core group of representatives from leading agencies and programs interested in the charge. During this year-long project the group, with input from stakeholders across the state, developed a set of cross-disciplinary social-emotional core competencies for early childhood workers and professionals. These competencies were released in 2015 and have been broadly disseminated, with pilot implementation of the competencies within higher education settings and in-service staff development settings.
In 2019, the NCIMHA board voted to pursue a national competency and endorsement system for the infant and early childhood workforce through the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health (Alliance), engaging the discovery process and joining the World Association of Infant Mental Health. In 2021, funds awarded to the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) through the Preschool Development Grant (PDG) were used to support the purchase the Competency Guidelines for Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-Focused Practice Promoting Infant Mental Health® (Endorsement). This internationally-recognized credential supports and recognizes the development and proficiency of professionals who work with or on behalf of pregnant women, young children (birth up to 3-years old), and their families. In October 2021, North Carolina became the 32nd state to launch the Alliance’s Infant Mental Health Endorsement® (IMH-E®) system.
An Endorsement Coordinator has been hired to manage this process and reach the appropriate audiences to share the competencies and Endorsement benefits for our state. The NCIMHA board and Endorsement Coordinator worked collaboratively to form and approve a Leadership Cohort, a group of eight early childhood professionals that specialize in work with pregnant people, infants, toddlers and their families in a variety of roles (e.g., early childhood education, home visiting, integrated behavioral health, policy) across multiple regions of the state, to become the first North Carolinians to move through the Endorsement.