|Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Credential Project|
Commitment fee: $150 due Sept. 30
The ILAIMH I/ECMH Credential is a unique relationship-based process that involves building a portfolio, beginning with an application process. Once it is determined that the candidate meets the basic eligibility requirements, they will be asked to submit a CV, official transcripts of their most recent or most relevant degree, and an essay describing their reflective supervision. They will be scheduled for an interview with a credentialed specialist and a supervisor of their choosing will be asked to submit documentation of their experience of reflective supervision. If chosen for the cohort they will be placed in a group of 3-5 individuals based on geographic location. The group will meet with a facilitator for 10 monthly 3-hour reflective practice sessions based on the competencies. Candidates will complete an essay following each session that they will review with their facilitator during bimonthly individual reflective supervision sessions. They will also utilize a self-assessment document with the facilitator to validate their competence. At the end of the 10-month period the candidates will prepare a comprehensive case study that will be submitted with their portfolio of essays and self-assessment form to a panel of three, including the facilitator of their group. The candidates will be scheduled for a final review with the panel to discuss your portfolio.
Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health (birth to five) is the developing child’s capacity to form trusting and secure relationships, essential to sustaining engagement with their ever expanding world of people and for exploration and learning. Through relationships with important others and in the context of family, culture and community the young child develops social and emotional capacities–to experience, regulate and express emotions – that lead to a healthy sense of self, well-being, and increasing self-efficacy.
Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Approach
The Infant Mental Health approach requires a blending of principle and practices from the fields of child development and mental health; and as such is a multidisciplinary field. The Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) practitioner’s stance is one of promoting and supporting the child’s healthy development, within the context of relationships, while considering multiple determinants, i.e., individual factors; biological and constitutional, the family’s history and contextual and cultural factors. Implicit in this stance is both the multidisciplinary and trans-disciplinary nature of the work, thus requiring a unique set of competencies informing and guiding an infant mental health approach. IECMH practitioners, therefore, must approach their work with infants, children and parents with a deep understanding of and appreciation for the mutuality of relationships, family and community systems, culture and diversity and self-knowledge.
“Competence is the habitual and judicious use of communication, knowledge, technical skills, clinical reasoning, emotions, values, and reflection in daily practice for the benefit of the individual and the community being served.” -Epstein & Hundert, 2002, p.227
There have been many frontiers in the psychological study of infancy and early childhood in the last fifty years, all characterized by the confluence of multiple fields of thought in a “climate in which diversity and even audacity…were accommodated” (Fraiberg, 1977, p. xv). And now we gather at the border of a new frontier: the growing national effort to systematically define “what constitutes a knowledgeable and skilled early childhood mental health … provider” (Korfmacher & Hilado, 2008, p.1).
The Illinois Association for Infant Mental Health (ILAIMH) has been an active player in the effort to promote professional development since it was incorporated in 1979 and before. The Association grew out of uniquely creative programs committed to the protection and nurturance of infants, children, and their families. These programs and their visionary leaders exist in the community, hospitals, schools, university settings, and early intervention programs.
These programs often grew in the context of the tension that arises when resources are required and must be redirected for new, but critical undertakings. Advocacy for the work, therefore, has been a constant in Illinois. Indeed, advocacy efforts have gone well above and beyond state efforts at child protection and education and into the private sector. The pioneering concept of “infant mental health” took energy and enormous commitment to promote. The state of Illinois and the ILAIMH have been the fortunate beneficiaries of strong philanthropic support and leadership, particularly from the Irving Harris and McCormick Foundations. Today, in Illinois, both infant and early childhood programs and education are core arenas for study, intervention, and advocacy - their vitality arising from state and private partnerships.
Historically and currently, the study of infancy and early childhood mental health in Illinois has been influenced by broad multidisciplinary engagement. Theoretical formulation, assessment, and clinical intervention have grown in the fields of psychiatry, social work, psychology, pediatrics, obstetrics, nursing, early childhood education, and many more. Illinois has leaders that have influenced thinking nationwide in the areas of reflective supervision, the neurobiology of development, strategies for parental empowerment, and perinatal depression.
Multidisciplinary work has provided a rich and vibrant culture for debate and momentum, but has also created a challenge for efforts to integrate and define goals both for service provision and professional development. The demography and geography of Illinois have added to this challenge. Counties and the programs that exist within them are very independent. What may be highly relevant for the rural areas of southern Illinois may not be so for the urban, densely populated areas of northern Illinois.
Therefore, the development of core competencies has many valuable purposes as it creates:
The Framework for the Practitioner
The infant/child mental health provider from any discipline and in every setting is heir to a history of bold innovation in thought and skills. Developments in the field have moved apace in rapid non-linear sequences that have come in scattered starbursts of research and new insights, some embedded one in the other. No sooner was there an integrative breakthrough in how to really see the complexities and communication-ready skills of the neonate (Brazelton, 1973), than we learned that the infant could only be understood in context: first of the maternal relationship, then paternal, followed by the community, the impact of cultural determinants and on and on through sibling and peer relationships and early education refs. Finally, came the key understanding that the practitioner is a critical component of the context of development.
Most importantly, reflective again of the spirit of parallel process, the practitioner, in the private as well as the professional world, must be able to hold in mind all the intersections of infant/child, family relationships, caregivers, community, and self. An understanding of the implications of these intersections thus becomes a critical competency in and of itself and becomes an expectation for the credential.
At the very core of the ILAIMH credentialing process, therefore, is the status of the practitioner. In any skill realm, the overarching measure must be the practitioner’s ability for self-examination in response to a situation (e.g., a mother’s avowal that she does not love or want a previously longed for baby, a father’s neglect or abuse of his toddler with special needs, a teacher’s favoritism of one needy pre-school-age child over another). The questions are: 1) What do these scenarios evoke in the practitioner self-knowledge? 2) How do these scenarios intersect with the practitioner’s own sense of self as an attachment figure or with one’s own history of separation and loss (Schafer, 1992) /Personal/professional/cultural values and belief systems, assumptions?
The Organization of the Competencies: Foundational and Functional
The fields of medicine, psychology, social work, psychiatry, nursing, and education are awash with initiatives to define and measure competence rather than focus on course objectives and curriculum to measure completion of those objectives (Kaslow et al., unpublished paper). In psychology, it has been only fairly recently that the distinction has been made between foundational and functional competencies (Fouad et al., in press). Foundational competencies are defined as and serve to provide reflective practice, knowledge of relationships, cultural diversity, and interdisciplinary systems, with a strong knowledge of the research and theory that underlie these competencies. In contrast, Functional competencies focus on/describe….in part, skills in:
While this distinction between foundational and functional competencies is an important conceptual tool, it is clear that no one aspect of acquired competencies can be employed without simultaneously employing some or all of the others. As one pursues the work, one becomes rapidly aware that foundational and functional competencies are intimately related: one is embedded in the other.
Acquisition of the credential, therefore, is seen as the culmination of a dynamic process of critical reflection on one’s portfolio of core skills and knowledge and key points of intersection of one set of competencies, and, where relevant, with all other sets of competencies. The competencies are therefore arrayed in four columns:
Column 1 is the set of required foundational and functional competencies in the designated arena. Columns 2, 3 and 4 are required competencies at the points of intersection with the other designated arenas.
Fig.1. Core competencies are embedded one in the other. They exist in dynamic and fluid tension with alternating ascendancy in any given context. Whatever the context, they occur simultaneously: a reflection of the complexity and originality of infant/child mental health work.
Core Competencies: Scope
The core competencies are just that: general skills and knowledge that are relevant and essential to all aspects of work related to infant/early childhood (0-5) mental health, regardless of specific specialties. They are designed for professionals from multiple fields with a Master’s degree or above who work in various settings including, but not limited to: early care and education, home visiting, health care settings, early intervention, treatment, and child welfare.
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