Tools & Resources for Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultants
The Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) Program is an assessment and planning system aimed to promote children’s social and emotional development. It was designed with the specific intent to bridge the worlds of early childhood development and mental health, providing a common language that is strength-based, family friendly and developmentally appropriate. The DECA Program and other DCRC resources are valuable complements to any Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (I/ECMHC) service because they can help all of the adults in a child’s life focus on social and emotional health and resilience. I/ECMHC services can benefit from utilizing the entire DECA Program suite of resources and strategies, but can also utilize the assessments independently. The DECA-C (Clinical), specifically, was designed to be used by infant/early childhood mental health consultants and other mental health professionals with select children who are already showing significant behavioral concerns.
I/ECMHC & DECA Program Alignment Tool
This tool is a quick reference to how the DECA Program is a valuable complement to any Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation service. You can also read about how I/ECMHC programs across the country are using the DECA Program.
DECA-C (Clinical) Form
The Devereux Early Childhood Clinical Assessment contains all of the strength-based resilience items and scales found on the DECA, but also assesses social and emotional concerns, including: aggression, attention problems, emotional control problems and withdrawal/depression. The DECA-C is appropriate for children ages 2 through 5, and is available in both paper and web-based formats.
The DECA-C has been reviewed and recognized as a strong measure to evaluate outcomes in infant/early childhood mental health consultation:
Key Elements of I/ECMHC Practices Supported by the DECA Program
According to leaders in the I/ECMHC field, these are key elements of the practice. These elements can be supported by the DECA Program in numerous ways (source: https://www.ecmhc.org/tutorials/defining/mod1_1.html).
Focused on early care and education settings.
I/ECMHC is focused on providing services that benefit infants and young children who are in early care and education settings, including Head Start/Early Head Start programs, childcare centers and family childcare homes.
The DECA Program was specifically designed to support the adults working in early childhood settings caring for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. It is based on developmentally appropriate practices and has a focus on building the social and emotional health and resilience of children.
Collaborative and relationship-based.
A hallmark of I/ECMHC is the focus on collaboration between the mental health consultant and caregivers (including early care and education providers and family members). This collaboration is critical to developing and implementing feasible and appropriate strategies. Building strong, positive relationships between and among these key stakeholders is an essential component of achieving meaningful collaboration and, ultimately, effective consultation.
The DECA Program has six guiding principles. Collaboration between early childhood and mental health providers to optimize child outcomes is one principle and strong partnerships with families is another. All of DCRC’s work has a focus on bringing together all of the important adults in children’s lives; focusing on the strengths that individuals bring to the table; and working together using a common language to support the overall health and well-being of children.
Attentive to prevention, promotion and intervention.
I/ECMHC seeks to support optimal mental health for all young children — not just those identified with mental health challenges. This holistic approach requires that consultation activities address the full spectrum of young children’s mental health needs, from promotion of healthy social/emotional development to prevention of mental health problems to early intervention for young children demonstrating challenging or troubling behaviors.
The DECA Program emphasizes the importance of promotion, prevention, and intervention and offers resources for children at each of these levels. DCRC’s strength-based approach to assessment and planning consists of a five-step system to promote healthy social and emotional protective factors in children. The program includes assessment, a comprehensive planning framework, and strategies to help the child in both the home and school settings.
Engaging families is an essential component of I/ECMHC, as they know their children best and have a monumental impact on children’s mental wellness through their own behaviors. Families are critical partners in developing strategies that are well-attuned to the child and family’s strengths, needs and preferences. Using a family-centered approach increases the likelihood that family members will support implementation of strategies at home, thus strengthening the overall impact of consultation.
The DECA Program has six guiding principles that are built into every aspect of the program, including a commitment to create resources that support strong family partnerships. Families and providers working together as a team to provide consistent, nurturing, developmentally appropriate care results in more positive outcomes for children. The nationally standardized, reliable and valid assessments can be completed by both parents and educators. Assessment input from all the adults in a child’s life fosters better communication and collaboration. I/ECHMCs appreciate how parents can be included not only in the assessment process, but in the planning and evaluation steps as well.
Another important element of I/ECMHC, which supports relationship-building and the provision of effective services, is the use of a strength-based approach. By developing strategies that build upon the abilities and positive qualities of the children, families and early care and education providers involved in consultation, consultants not only increase the likelihood that recommended strategies will be embraced but they also provide a model for best practice service delivery.
The DECA Program has six guiding principles that are built into every aspect of the program including a commitment to creating resources that are strength-based. Research confirms that promoting children’s social and emotional strengths reduces the development and escalation of behavioral concerns. DCRC resources identify and build on children’s strengths first, rather than focusing primarily on deficit-based behaviors. The questions on the assessments are worded positively, with high frequencies of behaviors being desirable. DECA Program strategies are also strength-based and rooted in best practice research.
Indirect and capacity-building.
I/ECMHC seeks to promote positive outcomes for infants and young children by helping caregivers (i.e., family members and early care and education providers) develop attitudes and skills necessary to effectively support the social and emotional development of the young children in their care. The emphasis on capacity-building also extends to the overall early care and education program, with a focus on strengthening the program’s ability to create nurturing environments that foster mental wellness among children, families and staff.
The DECA Program was designed to empower teachers and parents/caregivers and to provide them with the tools needed to promote children’s social and emotional health within the context of their daily routines at school and home. The DECA Program’s Reflective Checklist for Caregiving and Teaching Practices (Infants/Toddlers, Preschool) is a resource that supports early care and education providers to reflect on their own teaching practices. Teachers complete the checklist and gain a better understanding about how their own practices influence (either positively or negatively) children’s behaviors. Research-informed strategies that link to the Reflective Checklist items can be implemented to improve the overall quality of teaching practices.
Delivered by professional consultants with mental health expertise.
The ultimate goal of I/ECMHC is to promote optimal mental health among infants and young children in early care and education settings. Thus, consultants delivering I/ECMHC services must have a strong foundation in infant and early childhood mental health.
The DECA Program offers I/ECMHCs a wealth of strength-based and research-informed resources that they can use to build strong relationships with families and early care and education providers. The DECA Program resources support I/ECMHCs in their efforts to build the capacity of the people and programs they serve.
Based on knowledge of effective early childhood practices.
To optimize outcomes for young children and their caregivers, consultants must be well-versed in effective practices focused on a range of early childhood issues (e.g., managing behavior, addressing trauma, fostering attachment).
The DECA Program assessments meet or exceed the professional standards set forth for assessments and all of the DECA Program strategies are research-based. I/ECHMCs appreciate and value the DECA Program resources because in addition to being research-based, they are practical, parent friendly, and empower parents and early care and education providers to support children’s social and emotional development.
Culturally and linguistically competent.
I/ECMHC is inherently collaborative and, as such, requires the formation of strong, positive relationships between and among those who will be involved in consultation efforts. In order to establish these critical relationships — and deliver appropriate services – consultants must explore and gain a firm understanding of consultees’ cultures, including ethnic, racial, linguistic, socioeconomic, education and religious aspects. Further, consultants must reflect on how their own culture impacts their approach to service delivery and reconcile this individual perspective with the collective culture of all of those involved in the consultation.
The DECA Program assessments have been thoroughly evaluated for their cultural and linguistic competence and are available in English and Spanish. The assessment can be translated into additional languages through the use of an interpreter, but when translated, should be used for planning purposes only and not scored.
I/ECMHC is unique in its emphasis on reflective practice. Instead of approaching each situation with pre-conceived notions of what to do, consultants constantly reflect on what they are hearing and seeing in order to set an appropriate course for intervention. Consultants also strive to help consul-tees become reflective by modeling this practice and promoting reflective thinking (for example, encouraging caregivers to consider why a child may be exhibiting a certain behavior).
The DECA Program resources provide a wealth of tools that support reflection. Specifically, the Reflective Checklists for Caregiving and Teaching Practices (Infants/Toddlers, Preschool) support educators and caregivers in being more reflective about the social and emotional quality of their programs. The DECA Program parent resources called For Now and Forever (Infants/Toddlers, Preschool) also offer valuable reflection questions for families.
The comprehensive DECA Infant/Toddler Program and DECA Preschool Program, 2nd Edition, are implemented using a five-step approach that can support an Infant or Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant doing classroom or child-focused work!
*Though using the DECA Program is not a requirement for using our resources, the five steps of the program can help organize your practice.
Here are those five steps, as well as some quick and helpful links to free resources and information to support consultants every step of the way!
- Step #1 - Collect Information
- Step #2 - Complete the DECA
- Step #3 - Summarize Results
- Step #4 - Develop and Implement Plans
- Step #5 - Review and Adjust
During this step, an I/ECMHC can use the following DECA Program resources to gain valuable information about a child, the child’s family, and the qualify of the settings where children spend time. The I/ECMHC can determine how to collaborate with teachers and parents in the use of the following tools:
During this step, an I/ECMHC can support a teacher in administering and scoring the age appropriate assessments. Assessments can be completed on every child in a classroom to learn about all children’s social and emotional strengths and needs, or on individuals for child-focused consultation. DECA results in the form of Individual Child Profiles indicate each child’s strengths and needs related to important within-child protective factors that support resilience. For children with extensive needs, an I/ECMHC doing child-focused consultation may also choose to use the DECA-C (Clinical) during this step.
During this step, an I/ECMHC doing classroom consultation to support all children can utilize the Classroom/Group Profile to create a visual summary of the protective factors and behavior concerns for the class. Also during this step, an I/ECMHC can utilize DECA tools to prepare to plan for individual children by using the Individualized Planning Summary to organize planning efforts. Preparing to plan is a key feature of I/ECMHC work.
During this step, an I/ECMHC can work with teachers (and parents) to develop plans and utilize strategies for a group of children or individual children by using the Group Action Plan, the Child Strengths/Goals Strategies Plan, and/or the Positive Guidance Plan. Consultants can also benefit from using the Team Planning Meeting Reflection Questions to support strength-based, family-friendly planning meetings with all of the adults in a child’s life. The DECA Program Infant/Toddler and Preschool Strategies Guides are full of universal and targeted strategies. The e-DECA Assessment and Planning System also offers a wide variety of easy-to-access strategies based on the child’s DECA results.
Infants and Toddlers
- Promoting Resilience in Infants & Toddlers Strategies Guide (for early care and education professionals)
- Promoting Resilience For Now and Forever in Infants & Toddlers (for parents/families)
- e-DECA Strategies – Sample Report
- Group Action Plan
- Strengths, Goals, Strategies Plan
- Positive Guidance Plan
- Activities Families Can Do with Infants/Toddlers
- Promoting Resilience in Preschoolers Strategies Guide (for early care and education professionals)
- Promoting Resilience For Now and Forever in Preschoolers (for parents/families)
- e-DECA Strategies – Sample Report
- Group Action Plan
- Strengths, Goals, Strategies Plan
- Behavior Incident Report
- Positive Guidance Plan
- Activities Families Can Do with Preschoolers
During this step, an I/ECMHC can use the DECA Program to collect ongoing information and conduct additional assessments to monitor effectiveness and adjust plans as needed. The DECA provides an opportunity to do advanced analysis of pre-post data as well as rater comparisons.
- Video Tutorial on e-DECA Pre-Post Comparison
- Measuring Outcomes for Individual Children, Groups of Children and Program Evaluation/Quality Improvement
- e-DECA Users: Access User’s Guides and Technical Manuals under the HELP tab when logged into the system
- Webinar on Demand (WoD): “Strengthen Your I/ECMH Consultation Toolbox” – In this webinar, professionals providing infant and/or early childhood mental health consultation will have an opportunity to learn about several DCRC resources that can support their practice.
- Training Webinar: “The I/ECMHC Crisis of Confidence” – This two-session webinar series is for Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultants (I/ECMHCs) to encourage reflection on the emotional intensity of this work and those moments when our confidence is compromised. Learn more.
Reflective Practice Sessions: A different kind of professional development
In this busy and hectic world, we all need more time to pause and reflect on our work with young children and the adults in their lives.
Reflection is the process of thoughtfully considering one’s own experiences in applying knowledge to practice (Schon, 1996). Reflective Practice is when we take the time to do just that! We must carve out time and make it a priority so that we learn from our experiences and continue to grow. Identifying a dedicated time with a consistent person is one of the best ways to ensure that you pause and reflect. Rachel Wagner, MSW, with the Devereux Center for Resilient Children, is a skilled reflective supervisor who provides an empathetic, safe and confidential space to talk and reflect individually or with a small group.
Reflective Practice Sessions are a time to talk about the work you do to support children and adults. The sessions focus on experiences, thoughts, and feelings directly connected with the work you are doing with young children and the adults in their lives.
Reflective Practice Sessions are facilitated by Rachel Wagner, MSW. Learn more about Rachel. Session packages start from as little as four sessions to monthly, ongoing calls. Packages can include individual sessions or sessions for small groups of individuals. Learn more about this offering, or contact Debi Mahler at [email protected] if interested!
The DECA Program has six guiding principles that are built into every aspect of the program, including a commitment to create resources that support strong family partnerships. Families and providers working together as a team to provide consistent, nurturing, developmentally appropriate care results in more positive outcomes for children. The nationally standardized, reliable and valid assessments can be completed by both parents and educators. Assessment input from all of the adults in a child’s life fosters better communication and collaboration. I/ECMHCs appreciate how parents can be included not only in the assessment process, but in the planning and evaluation steps as well.
Here are some resources that help to support I/ECMHCs seeking to build better partnerships with families:
- Promoting Resilience For Now and Forever in Infants and Toddlers, A Family Guide
- Promoting Resilience For Now and Forever in Preschoolers, A Family Guide
- Reflective Checklist for Partnerships with Families (Infants/Toddlers)
- Reflective Checklist for Partnerships with Families (Preschoolers)
- DECA Program Introductory Letters for Parents – Preschool
- CAREgiving Checklist for Families
Resilient adults are at the base of supporting healthy protective factors in all children. Adults who are healthy themselves are best prepared to promote children’s social and emotional wellness, prevent further risks, and link to expanded intervention when needed. An I/ECMHC seeking to build a supportive relationship with teachers, caregivers and parents could utilize the Devereux Adult Resilience Survey (DARS), as well as strategies from Building Your Bounce: Simple Strategies for a Resilient You to help the important adults in children’s lives focus on their own well-being and create plans to build their resilience.
“Resilient leadership” is the term used to describe those leadership behaviors that help others withstand crisis, and adapt to or rebound from adversity (Everly, 2012). I/ECMHCs who dedicate themselves to caring for young children and managing systems of care and education know this to be true … this effort can be extremely rewarding and also very challenging.
Here are some resources that can help to support any I/ECMHC seeking to become a more resilient leader in this important work:
Other Supportive Resources
- Research article – The role of consultative alliance in infant and early childhood mental health consultation: Child, teacher, and classroom outcomes
- Center of Excellence for Infant & Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation website (non-DCRC resource)
- Building Your Bounce: Simple Strategies for a Resilient You
- Your Journey Together (YJT) Resilience-Building Parenting Curriculum
- FLIP IT! Transforming Challenging Behavior
- FLIP IT! Online Course, 2nd Edition
- Facing the Challenge DVDs
- Classroom Moments DVD
- Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure: 50 Activities to Promote Resilience in Young Children