The Northwest Minnesota Foundation and an Action Team of area leaders are focusing on strengthening early childhood mental health services for young children and families in the Bemidji, Blackduck and Kelliher communities. This area was originally selected as one of six pilot sites to participate in the statewide Minnesota Thrive Initiative, in collaboration with the five other Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIFs) and with generous support from the Bush Foundation, to promote the healthy social and emotional development of our youngest children. Thrive became a component fund of Northwest Minnesota Foundation in 2009.

Early childhood mental health is the developing capacity of a child to experience, regulate, and express emotions; form close and secure interpersonal relationships; and explore the environment and learn. A young child’s healthy social and emotional development forms a strong foundation for all other development, including cognitive – the ability to learn and thrive in school. Secure attachment with a nurturing, responsive caregiver is a good start toward healthy development for a baby.

Children under the age of five can experience an array of emotional, behavioral and mental health problems, but most go untreated. Parents and caregivers are often unsure what to do or where to turn. Unsettled living conditions, poor early bonding with caregivers, poor early social skills, family violence and substance abuse can be contributing factors. Left untreated, early childhood mental health problems can lead to difficulty in school, an inability to develop friendships and poor social skills. According to the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General, one in ten children suffer from a mental illness, yet only one in five receives needed treatment or services. With help, many problems can be alleviated and not become a lifelong illness.

The goals of the Minnesota Thrive Initiative are to raise awareness of children’s mental health needs between the ages of birth and five, determine existing services and gaps, and develop a network of services for families and young children, supporting healthy social and emotional development. The local Action Team has gathered information and developed a plan, so that existing services work well together and gaps in service are reduced. The whole community is also part of the plan.

Visit the Thrive website for more information.