Early Childhood Mental Health

Early Childhood Mental Health Treatment
and Consultation Program

As described by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene "the purpose of this new program is to improve the ability of early childhood providers to prevent, identify and treat social, emotional and behavioral issues in children under five and their families/caregivers, to reduce the impact of mental health problems, and be available to help coordinate mental health treatment across service systems…." New York Center for Child Development psychologists and social workers provide consultation and treatment in a community primary healthcare clinic, three daycare centers, and a preventive/foster care agency, all in East and Central Harlem, as well as in New York Center's preschool for children with special needs. Providing services in community child-serving settings affords easy early access for families and reduces the stigma often associated with mental health issues.

A particularly important example of this philosophy and practice is the co-location of early childhood mental health services in a primary care clinic. In this setting, providing developmental and emotional screening in routine pediatric care during well-baby visits allows for the early identification and treatment of social emotional issues in young children in a non-stigmatizing environment.

Screening to identify children with early social emotional challenges is an integral part of the program. Where social emotional issues are identified, children and families are treated or referred for comprehensive evaluations, which may qualify them for a variety of government-funded services. If during screening other social service needs are identified children and families are referred to appropriate service providers.

Programmatic consultations, supervision and trainings are provided at partner sites, as are workshops for parents. New York Center's mental health program is charged both with serving the social emotional needs of individual children and families, and strengthening mental health practice in the agencies and communities that we serve.

The approach used by the mental health program draws on the principles of the DIR model, which was developed by Drs. Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder. Dr. Wieder serves as a consultant, trainer and supervisor in the program. DIR is a relationship-based model, meaning that it focuses and works on the early relationships in which children grow, particularly the parent-child relationship. (What is DIR?)

"Infant mental health is, first of all, about establishing a secure relationship between a child and his or her parents," says Dr. Gilbert M. Foley, EdD, clinical director of the mental health program. "One could think of the relationship like a container in which all other aspects of development begin to unfold and integrate. We also now know that what happens in those interactions profoundly impacts not only psychological development, but the brain itself. Early relationships and experiences literally shape brain architecture." (What is Early Childhood Mental Health?)

“Children need a secure base, a caretaker who serves as an anchor for their exploratory forays into the world. Without that secure attachment, they’re not going to have that anchor and that’s going to vastly blunt their motivation, curiosity and exploratory behavior, which is going to impact on every area of development: language, cognition, motor development. The relationship really is the foundation.”

Dr. Gilbert Foley, EdD,
Clinical Director, NYCCD Mental Health Program
Professional Advisory Board Member

Out of respect for the privacy of our children, the photos on this website are not of children in our programs.