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Early Childhood Mental Health as Prevention and Early Intervention:  The YCATS Experience

by John D. Kinsel, MS, LPCC-S,YCATS Clinical Supervisor

Recent research on brain and social/emotional development has shown that there is no better time for early intervention and prevention efforts than during the first few years of life (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000).  The Young Children’s Assessment and Treatment Services (YCATS) program of Samaritan Behavioral Health, Inc. (SBHI) has as its mission that very task.  SBHI is a large, not-for-profit community mental health organization serving Montgomery County, Ohio, and its surroundings.  The YCATS program is dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of children ages birth through five.

Central to the YCATS program has been the provision of intensive behavioral therapy groups for behavior disordered children ages 3-5.  Each group of 8-10 preschoolers is guided by two specially trained Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) therapists.  YCATS operates eight intensive behavioral therapy groups, three at the SBHI main facility and five co-located within the community in other early childhood education (ECE) settings.

Intensive group interventions are strength-based, focusing on the three resiliency factors of attachment, self-control and initiative as identified in comprehensive studies of trauma-exposed children (Werner and Smith, 1982).  The intent is to ameliorate problematic behavior by promoting pro-social functioning.  Progress is tracked using the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment-Clinical Form (LeBuffe and Naglieri, 2003.)

Children are eligible for intensive group if they have been or are at risk of being suspended or expelled from their early childhood education program. Other young children with home-centered or trauma-based issues are assigned to individual treatment with therapists who work with them and their families in play and dyadic therapies.  YCATS clients may also access on-site psychiatric consultation and/or sensory integration-based occupational therapy if such a need is assessed.  

YCATS provides prevention services through an expansive ECMH consultation program. YCATS sends ECMH consultants into the community to consult on-site with a wide array of ECE programs. Utilizing the Georgetown model (SAMSHA, 2001), services include ECE staff training, center/classroom-based consultation and individual child/family-focused consultation. 

Infant Mental Health needs are addressed through partnering with local organizations that serve children birth to three. The Infant Mental Health specialist meets with the parent child dyad in their home to address issues of attachment, behavior management, and specific disorders of infancy (Zero to Three, 2005). 

By providing comprehensive ECMH services, YCATS is an agent for intervening early in emerging behavioral difficulties and for actively preventing future emotional and behavioral problems.  Put another way, Samaritan Behavioral Health’s YCATS program can be described as a promoter of emotional wellness beginning at birth.

Contact: John D. Kinsel, Samaritan Behavioral Health, Inc., Dayton, OH, 937-567-3476 Office

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