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The Pandemic Suspended and Expelled Everyone – What Can States Do About It?

The Readout

The pandemic increased stress for children, parents, and the early childhood workforce. Many were forced to stay home, others were forced to work. Increases in stress require increases in resources to effectively support the workforce as they manage their own stress and the social-emotional needs of the children returning to their care. The good news is we have models that research show are effective, and resources from the federal COVID relief funds that can support their development.

In this informative call on infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH), Dr. Walter Gilliam from the Yale Child Study Center, Dr. Lee Johnson III from ZERO TO THREE, and Callan Wells from Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students led state advocates in a discussion of suspensions and expulsions, IECMH consultation, the impact of new rescue and relief funding, and more.

Setting the Foundation

Gilliam set the stage with the alarming prevalence of suspension and expulsion before the pandemic and why we should be concerned. We also dove into the children most likely to experience suspension and expulsion — namely kids with other adverse childhood experiences. We looked at educator stress as well. Gilliam also shared some fresh research on the astronomical stress that the pandemic has created in educators’ and children’s lives. 

Setting the stage for this discussion also requires a look at racial disparities, and Gilliam presented some impactful pre-pandemic research on implicit racial bias among educators.

A Little Known Field

Johnson then gave us a look at the training and career evolution of IECMH clinicians. At the core of the IECMH practice, IECMH clinicians are skilled to work alongside parents to support the parent/child dyad and the child’s mental health. But with all their training and the growth in the field, there will likely never be enough clinicians to do all the work necessary — especially the preventive work that is most supportive to teachers, students, and families. 

The Good News

There is an increasing body of research that shows early childhood mental health consultation can make a real difference; and already is in several states. It’s a model that equips teachers with tools to address behavior early in its lifespan, before it spirals into a sequence that can more permanently impact learners — and educators. 

Funding IECMH

There are significant opportunities to fund IECMH in the American Rescue Plan, and Johnson walked through several of the key funding buckets. He and Gilliam also talked about strategies for using “short-term” funding for long-term efficiency and greater equity. 

There was a lot of discussion about Medicaid funding and the importance of working with Medicaid as part of a broad prevention strategy.

State Advocacy for IECMH Consultation

States can lean on each others’ success in improving IECMH emphasis. Wells shared the story of Georgia advocates’ early outreach to Alabama, and how they turned that learning into getting a House Study Committee on IECMH. In addition to numerous experts, the committee heard from Alabama’s state coordinator (watch the video here). The result was a new commitment to cross-agency EMCH work in Georgia, the naming of a first director, and state funding to help bring the IECMH professional association to the state.

The Takeaway? Reach Out.

For state advocates looking to make significant strides in access to IECMH services, the panelists (and many attendees) urged them to reach out to colleagues in other states and state policy/funding experts at national organizations like ZERO TO THREE. With networking and outreach, we can avoid reinventing the wheel and can find the most appropriate strategies that have been successfully implemented elsewhere. 


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