Smart Support early childhood mental health (ECMH) consultation services are offered to licensed child care centers, regulated family child care providers, and home visiting teams in regions throughout Arizona that have elected to use state-allocated tobacco tax revenue for such services. This revenue is administered by First Things First, an initiative created through a voter proposition that provides funding for locally-selected early childhood programs and services. In some areas of the state, Smart Support consultation is also provided to unregulated family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) child care providers served by three FFN networks. A recent expansion of Smart Support services now includes consultation to 50 home visiting teams, which use the following evidence-based models: Nurse-Family Partnership, Healthy Families America, Parents as Teachers, and Family Spirit.
Southwest Human Development (SWHD), a nonprofit agency focused on birth-to-five services, is the administrative home and largest provider of consultants for Smart Support. SWHD subcontracts with two other agencies to provide Smart Support services in locations outside its service area. There are currently 42 consultants providing Smart Support services to early care and education providers and home visiting teams across the state, with typical caseloads per consultant of 8-9 early care and education providers and one home visiting team.
IECMH Consultation in Early Care and Education Settings
In early care and education (ECE) settings, consultants work with teachers, other staff, and families to increase their capacity to support early childhood mental health and reduce challenging behavior. They focus on an identified child, the classroom, the program, or a combination of these. Consultants receive training and employ strategies based on two models: the Pyramid Model, which helps consultants understand and address children’s mental health needs within the context of ECE settings, and FAN (Facilitating Attuned INteractions), which provides guidance on effective methods for consultants to use in working with ECE staff and parents. They further participate in ongoing professional development on topics related to adult mental health; infant-early childhood mental health; child development; equity, diversity and inclusion; and professional consultation.
A consultant typically provides assistance in an ECE setting for 2-3 hours a week. Consultation is open-ended, continuing until agreed-upon goals are met, although it typically lasts for a year with a given provider. Consultants work with teachers and parents to develop strategies that address the needs of an individual child, and also help teachers use practices that support the social-emotional growth of all children in an ECE setting. Consultants also help families connect with community resources related to parent, child, and family needs. When a consultant is not immediately available, “waitlist consultation” is provided by telephone to a center director or occasionally to an ECE teacher. This consultation helps the program address a particular problem in the short-term and prepares the staff for consultation when it becomes available. In most areas of the state, only a few providers are on the waitlist at any time and they typically receive on-site consultation within a few weeks. However, in some rural regions providers may remain on the list for several months.
Smart Support has a contract to work with an agency that serves family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) providers. The FFN Specialists from this agency offer a 10-week training curriculum to FFN providers at a central location. Smart Support consultants attend each of these sessions in-person and also co-lead a session that is devoted to social-emotional development. They consult with the FFN Specialists for an hour prior to each training session with the overall goal of building their capacity to support FFN providers’ ability to address behavioral, social-emotional, and family challenges. The consultants are available at each session to answer providers’ questions and then meet again with the FFN Specialists at the conclusion of each training session to discuss how the training went and respond to any questions or observations the specialists have. Mental health consultation to FFN Specialists was a response to the specialists’ reports about feeling unprepared to address the behavioral and social-emotional concerns of children and families that FFN providers discuss with them. In addition to their weekly in-person consultations, Smart Support consultants are also available for phone consultations with the FFN Specialists as needed. These consultations can address FFN Specialists’ concerns related to a particular FFN provider or more general IECMH strategies. Smart Support consultants can also guide FFN Specialists in making referrals for the children and families in the FFN providers’ care (e.g., for a child developmental evaluation or parent-child therapy), or for the FFN providers’ own mental health needs.
Because the Smart Support consultants are bilingual, they have worked well with the predominantly Spanish-speaking FFN provider population. FFN network administrators and Specialists have provided very positive informal feedback on Smart Support consultation services.
IECMH Consultation in Home-Visiting
IECMH consultation to home visiting teams is a robust part of Smart Support. Home visiting teams are comprised of the home visitors (approximately 5-8) and their supervisor. The consultant offers guidance on understanding and addressing the mental health issues of parents and children, including difficulties in parent-child relationships. If indicated, the consultant supports referrals to additional mental health services. In some cases, the consultant will accompany the home visitor on a visit, serving as an “ambassador” of mental health in order to facilitate a referral. The consultant also helps home visitors develop their reflective practice skills so they are better able to consider their experience and reactions and those of families. Consultants integrate information about ways to address various mental health and relational challenges that parents and children face into discussions with home visitors about individual families, but this information is sometimes also taught in more formal trainings.
Smart Support consultants spend two hours a month in-person with each home visiting team discussing cases and conducting pre- and post-meeting phone calls, which are used to plan home visits. In addition, the consultants are available on an “as-needed” basis for phone consultations with the home visiting teams, often related to urgent need. Consultants help the supervisor and home visitor think through referrals for families in need of substance abuse treatment, domestic violence resources, and supports for other serious needs.
Recruitment of home visiting teams involved outreach through agencies that provide home visiting, as well as presentations at home visiting team meetings. The state agencies in Arizona that fund home visiting programs sent an introduction letter out to all home visiting managers to inform them of opportunity to add mental health consultation to their team meetings. There was great interest and all slots were quickly filled.
Smart Support consultants serve a mix of ECE programs and home visiting teams. All consultants are required to have a master’s degree in a license-eligible mental health discipline such as social work, counseling, or marriage and family therapy. They are also required to have at least one year of postgraduate professional experience. Supervisors must be licensed and have a minimum of five years of relevant postgraduate experience.
Smart Support provides extensive pre- and in-service training and ongoing supports. New consultants participate in a two-week orientation, followed by a year-long training period that covers the Smart Support consultation model, service delivery, reflective supervision, evaluation and database training, the Pyramid Model, and the FAN approach. Consultants also participate with their peers in a monthly book club discussion about a book related to early childhood mental health or consultation.
In-person statewide trainings for all consultants are held twice a year. Consultants may also apply to the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute at Southwest Human Development, with tuition covered by Smart Support. The two-year training consists of monthly daylong sessions that cover the principles and practices of infant mental health.
Consultants participate in weekly hour-long supervision and monthly group supervision meetings, which blend discussion of administrative issues with reflection on consultation work. In turn, supervisors and Smart Support program managers also receive weekly hour-long supervision. Supervisors and program managers have weekly leadership meetings, and program managers meet weekly with the program’s director so that there is ample opportunity throughout the Smart Support program structure for reflection, problem-solving, and creativity.
Smart Support is offered free to eligible early care and education providers and home visiting teams through funding from First Things First, an initiative that directs dedicated revenues from a state tobacco tax to quality birth to five early education and health programs. The state is divided into 33 First Things First regions, each with a local regional council that develops a plan of services to be delivered. Smart Support will serve any region that chooses to opt in to ECMH consultation services. Smart Support services are offered to licensed child care centers and regulated family child care providers in 14 First Things First regions. Half of those 14 regions represent the most populated areas of Arizona. Home visiting consultation is offered in 20 regions, and FFN consultation is offered in three.
Smart Support has contracts with three tribal Head Start programs outside of First Things First funding: Colorado River Indian Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, and Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.
Funding for consultation to 40 of the 50 home visiting teams comes through a grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that will end in September 2020. Program leaders are meeting with state stakeholders to try to sustain the current volume of home visiting consultation.
Evaluation and Monitoring
An external evaluation of Smart Support was conducted from April 2010 through May 2014, a period in which Smart Support services were delivered to 521 child care centers, 48 licensed family child care providers, and 1,569 teachers. Data were collected at baseline, six months, and 12 months through questionnaires, observations, and surveys.
The evaluation found significant improvements, which were especially pronounced during the first six months, across a wide range of outcomes: classroom mental health climate, teacher self-efficacy, teacher-child relationships, children’s self-regulation, children’s attachment, children’s initiative, children’s risk of expulsion, and teachers’ negative attributions of individual children. Directors and teachers reported strong satisfaction with the program. Consultants’ positive ratings of their relationships with teachers were related to greater growth in key teacher and classroom outcomes.
Currently Smart Support collects data on ECE providers served, including provider characteristics (e.g., years of experience, education level), characteristics of the child care settings, type of consultation (e.g., child, classroom, or programmatic consultation), dosage, and duration, as well as fielding satisfaction surveys for providers. For home visitors, Smart Support tracks the number of home visitors who attend case consultations and professional development provided by consultants. For FFN, Smart Support tracks the number of participants and characteristics of referrals provided to families and FFN caregivers.
Smart Support consultants continue to use some of the 20 measures from the evaluation to guide quality improvement and clinical work. These measures help the consultants develop plans and goals for their work, as well as track progress. For example, consultants providing classroom- and child-centered consultation use the observational Preschool Mental Health Climate Scale, which assesses transitions, staff affect, teaching feelings and problem-solving, and staff-child interactions, to guide their work and to provide feedback to center directors. When engaging in child-centered consultation, ECMH consultants use the teacher-completed Student-Teacher Relationship Scale to inform their work.
Special thanks to the following individuals at Southwest Human Development for providing information for and reviewing this profile: Alison Steier, Vice President, Mental Health Services, and Leah Eckley, Assistant Director, Mental Health Services.