Recent advancements in the field of infant/early childhood mental health are so expansive, that SUNY Cobleskill’s Early Childhood Program offers a dedicated course on the subject. It puts the College in rare company: SUNY Cobleskill is one of the first and only colleges in New York requiring its undergraduates to gain exposure in an area that, says program faculty member Dr. Carol Morris, is critical to understanding child development, and the importance of providing enriching environments and responsive care for infants, toddlers, and very young children.
“Research indicates preschoolers are getting kicked out of school three times as often as elementary school children,” explains Dr. Morris, “and people started to ask, ‘what is going on?’ What we see are repeated, high levels of chronic stress leading to behavioral issues. Stress hormones influence brain development, and impact how young children perceive the world. Through a trauma lens we see how exposure to chronic trauma, as a social and emotional influence, can lead to behavioral issues.”
To address the need for an infant/early childhood mental health curriculum, Dr. Morris was tasked with its development. While she has since tweaked it, and will continue to refine instruction, there is incalculable value in such a course. Beyond identifying the nuts and bolts – Dr. Morris admits she sometimes finds herself explaining that infant/early childhood mental health is indeed a real and pertinent topic – students learn how factors positively and/or harmfully impact infant-toddler development.
“Sometimes it is not the child,” says Dr. Morris, “but the child in relation to the caregiver, or environment… All early experiences impact brain development.” She says while we often take the importance of positive, nurturing experiences for granted, enduring chronic, negative experiences can detrimentally shape a young child’s pathways.
The course is entering its second year, and is now a general requirement for all students in the program. It makes sense; whereas some students begin their studies knowing they want to teach, others target careers in agency settings. *
Currently, Dr. Morris is teaming with the New York State Association for Infant Mental Health (NYS-AIMH) to identify and institute standard competencies for students across New York who are or will be enrolled in infant/early childhood health courses. The goal is for these students to be on track to be endorsed at NYS-AIMH’s Infant Family Associate (IFA) category-level of infant/early childhood mental health.
“How we care for infants and toddlers has long-term impacts on their behavior and their social emotional development down the road,” says Dr. Morris. “Our Early Childhood Program strives to prepare a knowledgeable, effective, trauma-informed workforce of those teaching, working with, and providing care for very young children. Students in our program learn how to create high-quality environments and develop nurturing, responsive relationships to support the optimal development of all infants, toddlers, and young children.”
*SUNY Cobleskill’s Early Childhood Program prepares students to work in agency settings with/for children birth through age five years.