Early Identification

Early identification includes the evaluation and treatment provided to families and their children under three years old who have, or are at risk for having, a disability or delay in speech, language, or hearing. A child can quickly fall behind if speech and language learning is delayed Early identification and intervention usually refer to finding mental health concerns at the earliest age they appear. This approach should also refer to finding the earliest, emerging stages of mental health needs, regardless of age.

The Children’s Mental Health Division promotes policies and programs to prepare others to recognize and respond sooner to children’s signs of emotional, behavioral and mental health concerns. These problems can emerge early in childhood and become progressively worse if not treated. The division coordinates initiatives to increase awareness of the early onset of those indicators that may mean a child or youth needs assessment and attention for mental health needs. Early detection requires an understanding of developmental stages and the protective and risk factors, such as quality of attachment with primary caregiver, maternal depression, family substance use or trauma, which can affect a child’s social and emotional development.

Other strategies for early identification and intervention include creating connections between mental health providers and others serving children, such as child care centers, primary care clinics, public health and school districts. Integrating these services creates a larger community with the capacity and commitment to the healthy development of children and youth. This includes efforts to promote positive mental health, prevent mental health problems and screen for mental health concerns. Early identification and intervention means increasing access to mental health services, reducing the need for more intensive types of treatment and decreasing costs overall for health care, education and social services.

Untreated mental health problems impact children, families, schools and communities. Assessing and addressing problems earlier improves children and youth’s quality of life and their chances to succeed.