Growing Up Well: Supporting Young Children's Social-Emotional Development and Mental Health in North Carolina (2012)


Young children’s social-emotional development and mental health influence every critical developmental task of the first five years whether physical, cognitive, linguistic, or social-emotional. The NCIOM’s Task Force on the Mental Health, Social, and Emotional Needs of Young Children and Their Families was charged with examining the current mental health needs of young children and developing recommendations to ensure that there are systems and services in place to meet the mental, social, and emotional health needs of young children, ages 0-5, and their families. This report summarizes the findings of the Task Force and their recommendations to enhance North Carolina's early childhood systems that support the social-emotional development and mental health of young children.

Full Description

The future of North Carolina’s prosperity depends on our ability to foster the health and well-being of our children. Health in the earliest years—beginning with a mother’s pre-conception health—provides the foundation upon which future development depends. Young children’s social-emotional well-being, or mental health, affects how children relate to and interact with others, how they learn, and how well they are able to manage their emotions.

New scientific evidence from multiple fields, including neuroscience, genetics, and the behavioral and social sciences, confirms that developmental and biological disruptions during the prenatal period and formative years can impair functioning, increase vulnerability to health problems later in life, and change the actual structure of a young child’s developing brain. Significant adversity in early childhood, including trauma, abuse and persistent poverty, can cause stress that disrupts a young child’s brain circuitry and other systems. Failure to address these issues at an early age can lead to inordinate physical health, mental health, education, or criminal justice system expenses. A growing body of research shows that investments focused on children under 5 years of age have the potential to generate savings and benefits to society that more than repay their costs. This knowledge must inform and undergird all of North Carolina’s investments in its citizens if the state is to grow and prosper.

The Task Force recommendations include many strategies that could be pursued at the state, county, and local levels. Taken together, they provide guidance on how to create the kind of comprehensive, integrated system that is needed to support the social-emotional development and mental health of all young children. To make a real difference, North Carolina needs to engage simultaneously in multiple strategies. Implementation of the recommendations will have a meaningful impact on the lives of North Carolina’s youngest children and their families as well as generate large economic returns for all of North Carolina.