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By Sally Griffin

Ihave a new granddaughter and I am responsible for her one day a week. The rest of her family are teaming up to ensure that she has a healthy childhood. This is a big responsibility and one I want to make sure that we do right. I found out some important information that every parent, grandparent and child-care provider in our area should know:

• According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004), “As young children develop, their early emotional experiences literally become embedded in the architecture of their brains.”

• The early years (birth to age 3) are among the most sensitive periods for brain development. All aspects of a young child’s development – mind, body and relations with others — are interconnected, and healthy development in each of these areas provides a foundation for long-lasting health as a child grows.

• While 26.5 percent of Colorado’s parents have concerns about their child’s emotions or behaviors, less than half of such health problems are detected before children enter school.

• Research shows that high-quality birth-to-five-years programs for disadvantaged children can reduce the likelihood of problems later in life.  These programs cause significant gains in future educational attainment, health, social behaviors and employment for these children.

• These points are especially important because Colorado, between 2000 and 2014, had the eighth-fastest growing child population in the country.

Luckily, Edgewater and Wheat Ridge and other parts of Jefferson County have a wonderful collaborative project for the young children in our communities. This is one of four such initiatives in the state. LAUNCH (Linking Action for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health) Together is modeled after Project LAUNCH, a first-in-the-nation initiative designed to improve social, emotional, behavioral, physical and cognitive outcomes for young children and their families.

The LAUNCH Together initiative serving Edgewater is led by the Jefferson County Partners, a collaboration of community partners with Jefferson Center for Mental Health at the helm. LAUNCH Together is completely funded by a unique collaboration of eight Colorado-based foundations.

This program supports communities in enhancing mental health practices for young children, in helping communities to coordinate their systems, and in developing partnerships that will provide the infrastructure for early childhood mental health services.

Decades of research show that programs that support families are effective and, ultimately, result in significant cost savings for taxpayers. When communities adopt evidence-based programs that focus on healthy development in early childhood, the result is increased family self-sufficiency, lower costs for health care, reduced need for remedial education and for incarceration.

“LAUNCH Together recognizes that no matter how we interact with young children — whether we are parents, grandparents, health care professionals, friends, or neighbors — we all play an important role in giving children a strong start in life,” said Dr. Catherine Greisch, Psy.D., project coordinator at Jefferson Center.

LAUNCH Together is in the second year of the grant that funds the program.  The first year was spent in careful planning with a wide range of community partners. This year, they are focusing on:

• Raising awareness of the importance of early childhood social and emotional health and development.

• Relationship building with community partners in the early childhood field, including Early Care and Education, Home Visitation, Pediatric Medicine, and Parent Support organizations.

• Training for early childhood providers, parents and caregivers, and community members.

• Enhancing early childhood work through a variety of settings and services.

What do social and emotional skills look like in childhood? A child with these skills makes friends easily, is able to wait patiently (a least for a little while), and shows caring for others. They also know how to resolve conflicts peacefully, control their emotions, and follow the rules.

These skills are all critical in a child’s ability to learn, have academic success, and grow into a successful adult. Mental health in early childhood is characterized by secure and loving adult relationships, the ability to experience and manage a range of emotions, and the opportunity to explore and learn from their environment.

For the families within the 80214 ZIP code (32nd to 6th avenues; Sheridan to Carr streets), the Jefferson County Partners have several efforts that promote healthy children.

They provide training and consultation to nurses and other health care workers that perform home visitation services. They also plan to work with the Edgewater Collective and Families First to connect parents with each other for peer support in raising healthy children.

They work with three early learning centers to provide embedded consultation and help for parents. They are developing curricula that can be used to train early childhood teachers and caregivers in how to recognize early mental health problems and how to provide supportive environments for young children.

They are collaborating with other integrated care projects to help pediatricians understand mental health issues with those in their care and which of these children may need screening, intervention or support.

As if these services were not enough, LAUNCH Together is also looking to influence policy makers and legislators to find ways to continue to provide these services after the end of the grant period and to provide them to ever-expanding populations and communities.

The one thing that is becoming increasingly self-evident is that these services are needed. Early childhood providers are seeing much more significant behavior problems with younger and younger children. There are 3-year olds that are being suspended from day care because of challenging behavior.

It is clear that we as a community need to get better at recognizing stressful situations in our communities, and we need to help make families and children more resilient and strong. Parents, are you feeling stressed? Then your children are probably stressed as well.

Learn more about the program at www.LAUNCHTogetherColorado.org/Jefferson. If you are an early learning provider or a parent of a child in early care in Jefferson County and would like more information about social emotional consultation, call 303-432-5455.