Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

A child sitting on the floor playing with her child care provider

Mental health and development is as critically important to children as it is adults. 

If your child is ages 0-3 and you’re looking for more information on mental health, or if the Illinois BEACON assessment portal redirected you here, you’re in the right place!

If you’re looking for a tool to help assess your child’s behavioral development and they are over the age of three, visit Illinois’ Behavioral Health Care and Ongoing Navigation, or BEACON, portal to access the newest resource for Illinois residents to access information on behavioral and mental health.    

What is Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health?

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health is all the elements that contribute to the developing capacity of the infant and toddler to

  • form close and secure adult and peer relationships
  • experience, manage, and express a full range of emotions
  • explore the environment and learn

…all in the context of family, community, and culture. 

Addressing Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health seeks to support 

  • the needs and strengths of the child
  • the needs and strengths of the primary caregiver
  • the quality of the caregiving relationship
  • and the environmental factors that affect these three things.

Recognizing mental health concerns in young children

  • Changes in feeding, toileting, sleeping habits
  • Externalizing behavior, like excessive crying, biting, tantrums, and aggression
  • Internalizing behavior, like social withdrawal, and fearfulness
  • Regressions to earlier stages of development


Early Mental Health Challenges are Common, and Easily Addressed

Twenty to twenty-five percent of children in the United States will experience some form of childhood trauma before they reach adulthood, and infants, toddlers, and young children can experience significant psychological distress. Of children ages zero to five, nine to fourteen percent experience mental health challenges, and by age two the rate is the same that we would find in adolescence.

However, with appropriate interventions, challenges can be addressed and positive outcomes can be achieved. Positive social-emotional development in young children is supported by:

  • Responsive relationships with primary caregivers
  • Understanding/adapting to individual temperaments
  • Encouraging social-emotional learning in every day routines (e.g. sensory play, exploring interests)
  • Teaching words to understand emotions
  • Recognizing culture/family traditions to shape identity


Who can help identify or confirm a mental health concern?

Parents may be wondering what they can do if they’re concerned about their child’s mental health, and the first step is seeking professional assistance. 

Primary Care Providers
Medicaid covers Primary Care Providers to screen children for mental health concerns during well-child visits or when a concern is raised.

Child Care Providers
Professionals in home visiting programs and early care and education programs are trained to recognize, screen, and support the social-emotional needs of young children. They also have access to Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation to advise them on specific concerns.

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultants
Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health consultants support early childhood professionals to prevent, identify, and reduce the impact of mental health concerns of young children in their care.

Where should I start?

  1. Start with your medical home/primary care physician
  2. Contact a Medicaid Care Coordinator
  3. To search on your own, you can use the Service Provider Identification & Exploration Resource

For more on Illinois’ efforts to support early childhood mental health services and support visit What is Early Childhood Mental Health.