Virginia Uses ARRA for Local Collaborations to Promote Infant/Toddler Social and Emotional Well-Being

Apr 29, 2010

By Rachel Schumacher

Early experiences - such as economic hardship, maternal depression, and parental substance abuse - cause high levels of stress for babies and toddlers can have lasting negative impacts on brain architecture. Neuroscience suggests that early interventions for vulnerable children should begin at birth or even prenatally, and the right treatment can improve well-being for very young children who have experienced "toxic" stress levels. Unfortunately, access to comprehensive services that can improve well-being for vulnerable babies and toddlers is limited.  Since vulnerable families may have less access to health care, mental health care, and social services, it is particularly important for child care settings serving vulnerable infants and toddlers to provide access or linkages to necessary services. State policies can provide the financial support and impetus to help make these links.  

Virginia state leaders have begun an initiative using $1.7 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) dollars to fund local pilot collaborations to take on the critical issue of promoting the social, emotional, and behavioral of infants and toddlers (birth to 36 months of age).  First, the Virginia Department of Social Services Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Development collaborated with other state agencies that administer early childhood programs to determine how best to use ARRA dollars. The goals of the initiative are to: 

  • Improve the access of child care providers to community resources to support the healthy social, emotional, and behavioral development of infants and toddlers, especially those at risk; and
  • Increase the capacity and competence of child care providers to recognize and address the social, emotional, and behavioral development of infants and toddlers in their care.

In addition, the state emphasized the importance of local collaboration.  The request for proposals said that applications should be submitted by existing or newly established local partnerships and inter-agency collaborations.  The RFP noted that the state "recognizes that each community is at a unique stage in establishing a comprehensive system of mental health services for infants and toddlers. The funding is to promote expansion beyond each pilot community's current capacity and level of expertise." The pilots are led by a variety of organizations, including an institute of higher education, the local counterpart to the state's  Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Early Head Start sites, and a regional child care resource and referral agency.  The community partnerships will include such entities as local departments of social services, one of Virginia's Smart Beginnings community early childhood coalitions, local Part C programs, Early Head Start, public schools, family programs, and colleges/universities.  

Funds were awarded in March 2010. While the stated contract period runs through June 30, 2011 with ARRA funds, the state hopes to extend the pilot with two six-month optional renewals in the future using Child Care and Development Block Grant Infant-Toddler Earmark funds. The state also plans to use evaluation data collected through the pilots to inform future state policy and possible expand the initiative to other regions in the state.

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