Healthy Development Summit

Introduction to the executive summary

Child mental health is an essential part of healthy development with long-term implications for a child’s and family’s quality of life. It should be addressed where children live, play, work and grow. Investing early in young children’s mental health can lead to savings downstream in areas such as special education, child welfare, juvenile justice, work productivity and physical health.

However, public policy currently addresses these issues when there are problems, which is not a good fit for children or for fostering healthy development. Instead, policies should look upstream toward mental health promotion and prevention, and retain an emphasis on the accessibility of evidence-based practices for all families. Healthy Development Summit II: Changing frames and expanding partnerships to promote children’s mental health and social/emotional wellbeing assembled a diverse group of stakeholders who might not otherwise be drawn together to generate ideas for new ways to move forward to promote young children’s mental health.

As indicated in the title, this is the second of two summits. This summit focused on the application of the research to practice and policy across sectors of society; that is using what we know to inform what we do. The summit was designed to convene unlikely partners across society representing “opportunity structures” for promoting child mental health. It built on the success and interdisciplinary consensus developed at the 2009 summit that focused on what we know about young children’s mental health. (The full report is available online).

With these factors in mind, the summit was designed with the following goals: encourage effective and shared framing about the importance of child mental health for healthy development, increase effective collaboration across sectors of society and arrive at consensus regarding feasible and actionable recommendations that could be implemented across disciplines to assure continued progress in promoting young children’s mental health. The summit included presentations that were designed to catalyze discussion or change frames among the summit participants in subsequent small working groups. Morning speakers each provided a different but critical perspective on young children’s mental health that provided a foundation for the afternoon’s work. These perspectives included public health, communication science and implementation science.

The first working group session consisted of four working groups (groups 1-4) each focused on a domain of child mental health as described by Tolan and Dodge (2005). The domains included the importance of mental health for normal child development, everyday challenges for parents, prevention opportunities in child mental health and effective treatment for childhood mental health problems. Each of the four working groups reported their key priorities to all summit participants for discussion. These reports were followed by a presentation that emphasized the challenges that still face the early childhood field and the importance collaboration among the sectors involved in young children’s development. This helped to focus the second working group session on enhancing partnerships.

The second working group session also consisted of four working groups (groups 5-8) that represented sectors of society with the opportunity to promote child mental health and social/emotional wellbeing, practitioners and scholars, the public and families, policymakers, organizations and agencies. They were tasked with identifying key outcomes and next steps. Key opportunities identified by groups 1-4 are provided below followed by priority outcomes and next steps developed by groups 5-8.

Key opportunities identified for the domains of child mental health are provided in the next section.