Author Affiliation

Department of Social Work, Minnesota State University, Mankato

Document Type

Policy Advocacy Brief

Publication Date


Issue Statement/Executive Summary

What is Social-Emotional Development? The foundation for lifelong mental health, including social and emotional development, is established early in life and shaped by children's relationships with parents, caregivers, and peers. This foundation is critical to all aspects of healthy development and growth in early childhood. Social-emotional development can be defined as "the capacity to form secure relationships; experience, express, and manage a range of emotions; and learn and explore one's environment."

Why is it Important? When children fail to develop social-emotionally, mental health symptoms begin to emerge and can "cause distress, interfere with relationships, limit the child's participation in daily activities, and hinder further developmental progress". Research has shown a connection between childhood mental health issues and the following: suicide, substance abuse, self-mutilation, suspension, expulsion, and involvement in the juvenile justice system. Access to timely and adequate treatment can promote a return to healthy development and increased functioning, whereas a lack of treatment could lead to reduced functioning in the home, academic, and community settings, as well as, increased health care costs in addition to incurred costs on other systems over the child's lifetime. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it, there is no universal screening tool being used in primary care settings. A universal screening tool would allow all children to be screened and data to be collected on children with mental health.

What can be done? According to the National Survey of Children's Health, more than 90% of children across the nation had seen their primary care provider in the last year. In the United States, but especially in Minnesota, children's mental health is inconsistently addressed in the primary care setting to formally address children's mental health, especially the birth to five population. To better meet the social-emotional needs of children in Minnesota, a statewide, universal screening tool should be identified and implemented. The tool would aim to guide discussions with parents to address their concerns in every well-child visit to promote not only physical, but social-emotional development, as well. Furthermore, providers do not receive adequate training in child psychopathology and development which leaves them feeling ill-prepared and uncomfortable addressing mental health concerns with parents. Due to the aforementioned shortcomings and lack of a mandated universal screening tool, primary care providers under-identify social-emotional issues in young children 80% of the time. Regular virtual training should be required through DHS for a variety of health. practitioners that serve in pediatric primary care settings including, but not limited to: Nurses, OB/GYN, Pediatricians, Mental Health Professionals. The training will ensure practitioners understand the tool, how to have conversations about the results with parents, and how to set up a network of community-based referrals to provide their patients with easy access to local mental health care.


Social Work



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