RD497 - House Joint Resolution 51 (HJ51) Feasibility Study of Developing an Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Program: Status Report for the Chairmen of House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees

Executive Summary:

Almost all young children struggle to manage their emotions and behaviors at one time or another as they learn how to express their emotions, engage in appropriate behaviors, and make social connections with adults and other children. As a result, challenging behavior occurs frequently in early childhood settings, and this is expected developmentally. When teachers form strong and positive connections with students and their families and provide high-quality learning experiences, most children develop social-emotional and behavioral regulation skills (i.e., the challenging behavior does not persist). However, without these high-quality learning experiences and support from teachers, children’s social-emotional and behavioral challenges may escalate, potentially resulting in suspension, expulsion, or other forms of exclusionary discipline. The use of suspension and expulsion in preschool, much like in K-12 education, is inequitable. Children with mental health issues and behavior problems, Black children, and boys are at an especially heightened risk of being disciplined through these exclusionary practices in early childhood.

To explore how Virginia’s early childhood system can better meet young children’s social-emotional and behavioral needs, House Joint Resolution 51 (HJ51) was passed by the Virginia General Assembly in the 2020 legislative session. This legislation tasked a workgroup—led by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS), and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (VDBHDS)—with studying the feasibility of adopting a statewide Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) consultation model to prevent suspensions and expulsions of young children attending early care and education programs in Virginia. During the fall of 2020, VDOE, VDSS, and VDBHDS convened a workgroup of 55 members to contribute to the HJ51 feasibility study. Workgroup members were tasked with studying effective models of ECMH consultation, identifying funding streams that Virginia could access to support statewide implementation of ECMH consultation, identifying the appropriate state agency to oversee ECMH consultation, understanding ECMH workforce issues, and ultimately providing recommendations for implementing and scaling an ECMH consultation program.

The HJ51 feasibility study occurred amid an unprecedented health and economic crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has put significant stress on teachers, families, and children—particularly among communities with access to the fewest resources. Parents and caregivers lost jobs, and some children lost loved ones. Young children’s daily routines, connections with teachers and peers, and social experiences have been upended. Teachers are working under extremely difficult circumstances and may be experiencing loss themselves. These stressors may elevate the risk for exclusionary discipline in early childhood programs, making the work of HJ51 very timely for the current context.

VDOE submitted the HJ51 report to the Governor and General Assembly in December 2020. This report established the statewide support, need, and research-base for a ECMH consultation program in Virginia and specifically cited the importance of ECMH consultation as a support for teachers and children during COVID-19 and beyond. Readers are encouraged to review the report to fully understand the process and recommendations. Workgroup members made recommendations around six key areas:

1. Developing an ECMH Consultation Program,
2. Building a Qualified Early Childhood Workforce, including ECMH Consultants,
3. ECMH Consultant Qualifications and Competencies,
4. Building the Infrastructure to Implement a Statewide ECMH Consultation Program,
5. Funding an ECMH Consultation Program Within a Fully Implemented Pyramid Model System, and
6. Evaluating the Impact of an ECMH Consultation Program

The current report describes progress the VDOE has made in implementing the recommendations identified in HJ51 and identifies additional legislative, regulatory, and budgetary actions necessary to continue implementation of these recommendations.