A Credential in Infant Mental Health

New Yorkers working with young children will soon have a way to prove to employers and clients their savviness in infant mental health.

In an effort to build a workforce that is more responsive to the social-emotional needs of young children, a committee composed of New York State early childhood advocates and experts has taken the first steps to bring to New York what’s called the Michigan Association for Mental Health Endorsement System—a credentialing system for professionals and paraprofessionals working with young children. This effort coincides with a new state requirement that, starting this calendar year, licensed social workers must engage in ongoing professional development. The hope is for the new credentialing system to put early childhood mental health squarely on that professional development menu.

“We want to introduce the idea of relationships, and how important relationships are to supporting the social-emotional growth, the cognitive development and the school readiness” of young children, says Candida Cucharo, the infant mental health planning specialist at the Institute for Parenting at Adelphi University, who is helping to spearhead the initiative.

One small survey found that endorsement had improved providers’ job knowledge, confidence, professional status and the quality of supports they provide to families.

Using a small grant from a private foundation, the newly created New York State Association for Infant Mental Health, which is based at Adelphi's Institute for Parenting, now holds the license to use the Michigan Association's system. In the next few months they will meet with the Michigan Association to strategize a rollout for the credentialing system in New York State. Cucharo expects early childhood workers to be able to receive endorsement sometime during 2016, and optimistically predicts that about 120 will receive an endorsement soon after the system launches.  

The Michigan system has four levels of endorsement. The first, intended for teachers at child care centers, focuses on promoting healthy social-emotional development and preventing problems from arising in vulnerable kids. The fourth, or highest, level is intended for clinicians, and requires a master's degree. Those seeking endorsement at this level must conduct research.

The system has already been adopted in about 20 other states, but its impact—as well as that of similar credentialing endorsements—has not been formally evaluated.  One small survey found that the roughly 20 Colorado professionals who have received the Michigan endorsement felt that the process had improved their job knowledge, confidence, professional status and the quality of supports they provide to families.

In some states the Michigan Endorsement has helped endorsed clinicians secure Medicaid reimbursement for infant mental health treatment.

Nevertheless, the system’s  reach has, so far, been modest. As of August 2014, only about 1,000 individuals nationwide had received an endorsement from the Michigan system, according to a report by the Institute for Parenting, with about 1,000 more engaged in the process at the time.

It remains to be seen how the Michigan system will play out in New York. Most likely, participation in the endorsement system will be voluntary, says Cucharo, and so the New York State Association for Infant Mental Health must find ways to make it sustainable as well as appealing to a wide range of professionals and paraprofessionals, including the often overworked and underpaid early childhood workers.

Find more information on Michigan's endorsement system here.