In Fresno and neighboring counties of the San Joaquin Valley, public and private resources, while declining in a poor economy, are largely devoted to after-the-fact responses. Service providers are forced out of necessity to provide protective services for children who have already suffered serious abuse or neglect, and devote limited resources to expensive medical care, mental health treatment, and the criminal justice system. The human suffering and loss of life that all too often accompanies our beleaguered and “too little too late” efforts cannot be quantified.
A recent study conducted by the Central California Children's Institute (CCCI) at California State University, Fresno substantiates the readiness of the Central Valley counties and their citizens to mindfully develop and implement programs and services which are likely to prevent the need for expensive back-end responses. Toward that end, the Children's Institute wishes to become the focal point for development of a regional plan for improving infant-family and early childhood mental health, thereby enabling the region's capacity to prevent problems before they occur.
Infant-family and early childhood mental health is a broad-based, interdisciplinary field of research and practice that focuses on the social and emotional development and well-being of infants and young children within the context of their relationships, family, community, and culture. Neuroscientists have found that appropriate brain development is heavily dependent on positive early familial experiences. Many children are deprived of vital emotionally engaging relationships during the early years, and as a result, their ability to interact positively with individuals and in society can be adversely affected for the rest of their lives.
Infant-family and early childhood mental health is well understood by a only very small number of child-serving providers in the San Joaquin Valley, and institutional practices by child-serving agencies which incorporate this understanding are at best sparse. The Central California Children's Institute intends to address the spotty nature of information, expertise, and services that support infant-family mental health through this project.