UNICEF UK and the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development & Learning (PEDAL), have developed a resource to support local areas in a shared understanding of mental health in infancy and early childhood.
The toolkit aims to:
- Help partners from different services and professions to develop a deeper, shared understanding of mental health in infancy and early childhood, and the factors that influence it
- Support service leaders, commissioners and other decision makers and policy teams to develop whole-system responses to ensure babies and young children are mentally healthy now, and are supported to develop the skills they need to continue to be mentally healthy throughout their lives.
- Provide resources, signposting, and conversation guides to support constructive local discussions, decisions and action about the needs of babies and young children in their area, and what more might be done to respond to these needs (including through strategy development across mental health, maternity, early years or Family Hubs & Start for Life).
Understanding and supporting mental health in infancy and early childhood – a toolkit to support local action in the UK.
How to use the toolkit
This toolkit is not a comprehensive “how to guide” rather a source of information, frameworks and prompt questions to support and guide local discussions.
It might be used in meetings or workshops where local partners are developing needs assessments and strategies. Taking time to have reflective discussions together on the topics in this toolkit can help local partners to develop a deeper shared understanding of local communities’ needs, their local services and care pathways, and their goals and objectives.
The toolkit can be used in its entirety, or as stand-alone sections (for example, someone interested in the workforce might use Part 6 to support local workforce analysis). Some diagrams are available as stand-alone resources to aid their use in local meetings, presentations and reports. In addition to questions and frameworks, the document contains links to other useful resources.
This toolkit and the definitions within it have been developed with valued input from a range of academics, policymakers, and professionals with the aim of describing mental health in a way that overcomes common misconceptions and misunderstandings, and is relevant across professional boundaries. It will not work perfectly for everyone, as concepts around mental health are deeply related to personal experiences, professional understanding and community values.
Local systems may decide to adapt the frameworks included here to suit their needs and the needs of the communities they work with. This toolkit aims to provide a starting point for conversations across the sector.
Part 1: The case for action
Part 1 describes, in brief, why the mental health of babies and young children matters now, and for their future outcomes. It contains links to other resources to help you make the case for action in your local area.
Part 2: Reflecting on what mental health means in infancy and early childhood
Part 2 discusses why it is important that local partners develop a shared understanding of mental health and suggest some reasons why this might be difficult. Use this section, and the prompt questions within it, as the basis for discussions about how your local partners understand and describe mental health in infancy and early childhood, and how this might impact joint efforts to improve outcomes for babies and young children.
Part 3: A framework to describe mental health in infancy and early childhood
Part 3 sets out a framework that captures the different elements of mental health in the infancy and early childhood. You might adopt or adapt this to develop a shared understanding of mental health in your local area.
This includes a new framework for understanding mental health in infancy and early childhood, in terms of ‘being and becoming mentally healthy’. This also includes a diagram showing examples of being ‘mentally healthy’ in infancy and early childhood.
Part 4: A socio-ecological model of mental health
Part 4 depicts a socio-ecological model of mental health, describing how mental health results from the complex interplay between many individual and environmental factors. This section presents case studies, prompts for discussion, and interactive exercises. This also includes example scenarios to support local discussions.
It might be used to help local partnerships to understand the many different ways in which they can promote and protect mental health, including the role that different services, across sectors, can play.
Part 5: Securing a whole-system approach
Part 5 describes what a whole-system approach to supporting babies’ and young children’s mental health might look like and the characteristics needed in local areas to achieve this. It contains links to frameworks and toolkits that you can use to assess and strengthen local partnerships in your area.
Part 6: Workforce analysis
Part 6 describes the workforce competencies and support required to effectively support babies’ and young children’s mental health. It contains a brief checklist which can be used for local self-assessment.
Part 7: Evaluating, assessing, and observing mental health in infancy and early childhood
Part 7 discusses ways to capture the mental health of individual babies and young children, and levels of need in communities. It includes measures that might be used to understand need in your local area.
This includes example questionnaire and observation tools used in screening and assessment of 0-5 year olds. A full table for comparison can be found here.
Part 8: Key concepts
Part 8 is a glossary that describes key concepts relating to mental health in infancy and early childhood. This might be shared locally to help professionals from different backgrounds to engage in discussions and develop a shared understanding.