Cross-Sector Investment to Promote Social-Emotional Development

About Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation

Early childhood mental health (ECMH) consultation is an evidence-informed, multi-level intervention in which mental health professionals partner with early care and education providers to support the social-emotional development of young children, improve teacher quality and empower parents. It’s a proven best practice for promoting positive health and development outcomes, reducing disciplinary actions and supporting greater retention of early care and education providers and staff.

Based on the growing evidence of the impact that consultation can provide and the demand for services, we were excited to invest in a cohort of organizations—advancing multi-tiered supports within early childhood through a variety of providers and methods.” — Lisa Montagu, Health & Education Investment Director, Gary Community Investments

Purpose of Funding

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at least one in five children and adolescents has a mental health disorder or has experienced a serious emotional or behavioral problem. Many more children suffer from recurrent exposure to stress, fear or violence that can impact their development. GCI believes cross-sector investment in the expansion of ECMH consultation services and improvements to community systems, combined with efforts to help refine state policy and establish sustainable funding, will bring the attention and capital needed to scale mental health consultation in early care and education to improve outcomes for children.

Amount Funded


Funding Period

2016 - 2018

Outcome Area

School Readiness

About the ECMH Investee Cohort

To broaden the reach of ECMH consultation supports across a typically fragmented system, GCI made grants to four organizations to support the expansion and coordination of these services in early care and education settings.

01Aurora Mental Health Center

Increasing awareness of the benefits of consultation by increasing access and providing on-demand services to children and providers in various settings, including licensed home providers, early childhood centers, and Family Friend and Neighbor (FFN) providers, with the goals of meeting the developmental needs of young children and decreasing expulsions.

02City of Lakewood Youth & Family Services

Providing services to care providers in the community, educating parents and connecting families to additional services, with the goal of promoting positive behavior and healthy child development.

03EC Partnership of Adams County

Contracting with Community Reach Center to expand consultation services that align with overall quality-improvement activities and the infrastructure for early childhood education centers and family childcare homes in northern Adams County.

04Mental Health Center of Denver

Facilitating healthy social-emotional development through embedded consultation services in centers, with one additional consultant serving children in kinship or foster care to enhance caregiver-child relationships in the classroom in order to support overall stability and healthy development of the children.

Impact & Results

Getting Ahead on Healthy Development

Early experiences matter, and young children learn best when their social, emotional, and behavioral capacity is prioritized. Investing in the healthy development of infants and young children helps children succeed and avoid more intensive services later in youth and adulthood. Our four ECMH grants connect teachers, caregivers, parents and children to mental health consultants who can focus at the individual, family, and classroom level to address issues early. Supporting and training teachers and parents empowers them to better understand and meet the needs of young children.

The following are results that were tracked over this three-year investment.


Full-time positions per year supported by our grants


Children receiving individual support


Care and education classrooms receiving ongoing support


Teachers, staff and parents trained in evidence-informed practices to improve their capacity to support healthy development


Percent of parents served reported feeling more confident in understanding and meeting their child’s needs


Percent of teachers and staff reported learning new strategies, feeling supported, and improving their knowledge, skills, and confidence

Reflections & Lessons Learned

01On-Demand Services are Valuable, but Difficult to Sustain

Staff at Aurora Mental Health Center have noticed service requests from providers are happening earlier as the recognition of consultation grows, leading to a decrease in expulsions and alleviating some of the frustration and burnout teachers and staff face. Providers are then eager to continue the interaction on a more consistent basis—while this helps to decrease expulsions and supports children, it can put a strain on consultation staff resources.

02Consultation Works Well in Tandem with Coaching

Quality-improvement coaches and ECMH consultants can be effective partners, as evidenced by the efforts of Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County. By embedding consultation into quality improvement and focusing on improving the capacity of ECE teachers and staff, the project aimed to instill a culture of social-emotional development to improve school readiness and retention, and providers reported increased knowledge, skills and confidence in promoting healthy development.

03State Funding has Grown, but Barriers to Scale Continue

The benefits of ECMH consultation have become clearer and demand for services is growing. In response, the Colorado Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist Program—supported by state general fund dollars—doubled from 17 full-time contracted specialists across the state in 2006 to 34 in 2016. While the benefits of services increases, barriers to scale and success continue due to a lack of sustainable funding sources and high turnover among ECE teachers and staff.

Mental health consultation has been such a valuable service to our community. The outpouring of positive feedback that we receive from schools and parents reinforces our commitment to this work. We are making a lasting impact on so many children and families in Adams County by supporting the systems in which these children learn and grow.

– Loretta Bozeman, Early Childhood Services Program Manager, Community Reach Center

Community partners have expressed their thanks for helping to support teaching staff in enriching their interactions with children in the classroom, providing an avenue for open discussions about children's behavior and incorporating parents seamlessly into planning around their child's behavior.

– Sherry Peterson, Administrator, Head Start

By providing mental health consultation through the Mental Health Center of Denver, I’ve seen parents and staff members begin to recognize the importance of a child’s mental health and then work to better understand and support their specific needs.

– Jennifer Streit, ECMH Consultant

The director and teachers appreciate the insights and interventions ECMH consultation offers, and have seen more positive social engagements with children and in the classroom.

– Na Maestas, ECMH Consultant, Rude Park and Sun Valley Early Learning Centers

A director of two centers in a central Denver neighborhood shared how much having a consultant has helped—especially at the smaller center, where it’s easy for staff to feel overlooked and forgotten. The consultant’s support and sometimes just being there to listen means so much to the staff.

– Michael Rovaris, Program Manager, PLAY