Origins of the California Center for Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health

The California Center for Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health (California Center) evolved from a rich history of research and direct service to infants and toddlers.


The accompanying timeline outlines key events. Click on each square to view the key contributions of each period in the evolution of California Center for Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health in California.

As early as 40 years ago, professionals addressing the physical and medical needs of infants recognized the essential yet overlooked need to address the whole child—especially an infant’s emotional needs. Research findings revealed the critically important nature of the first years of life and the profound effects of early parent-infant relationships on resiliency, health, self-regulation and attachment. For example, it is through patterns of early attachment and interaction that children develop trust and security.

As research grew, leaders in the field of infant and early childhood mental health realized that all professionals who deliver services to infants and toddlers, not only mental health professionals, need special expertise to be able to view and treat the whole child in the context of the child’s relationships with others. Thus began a series of successive efforts, each building on the other, to identify the specific knowledge and skills one needs to deliver effective service to infants and toddlers and their families. Expertise is developed through strong quality professional development and reflective practice. Each successive effort was supported by a time-limited grant or other funding means and involved a core group of experts, who involved other expert colleagues as need determined and funds allowed (see the accompanying timeline).

The efforts produced a manual of training guidelines and personnel competencies that identified the skills and knowledge providers must possess to provide effective services. Delivery of Infant-Family and Early Mental Health Services Training Guidelines and Recommended Personnel Competencies (PDF), first published in 2003, provided a compass for individuals and training programs regarding the critical components of transdisciplinary and relationship-based practice in infant and early childhood mental health. A 2009 update, California Training Guidelines and Personnel Competencies for Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health (PDF), Revised, refined and expanded the work to incorporate more recent research and best practices.

Publication of the Guidelines helped to crystallize the emerging need for a collective voice to promote the healthy social and emotional development of children under the age of five. Toward that end, long-time members of the core working group formalized their efforts in the form of the California Center for Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health.

Most recently, the California Center created an endorsement process that establishes a standard of excellence that can be used by professionals to document their expertise, by employers to determine hiring practices, and by consumers to guide decision-making about providers. With the Guidelines and endorsement process firmly in place, the California Center is pleased to launch its website to provide a collaborative forum for sharing, researching, learning, training, promoting and advocating for best practices in the early childhood mental health field.