Virtual summit designed to raise awareness for mental health issues in Utah’s youngest children

The Children’s Center of Utah and the Kim C. Gardner Institute for Policy at the University of Utah host the Ready! flexible! The Utah Early Childhood Mental Health Summit on Wednesday to raise awareness of early childhood mental health and build a framework to advance mental health outcomes for children and families in Utah. (Sharaf Maksumov, Shutterstock)

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Salt Lake City – Young children, including infants and toddlers, display the same emotions as teens and adults, and can experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, sometimes due to developmental challenges or trauma.

“Often, people don’t stop to think about the fact that infants, young children, and preschoolers are mentally healthy, just as young adults and adults are,” said Rebecca Dotson, president and CEO of the Children’s Center of Utah.

The nonprofit organization provides mental health treatment for infants, young children, and preschoolers. Treating children’s mental health is more complex, Dotson said, and that center doctors use a “holistic” approach that engages families and caregivers and focuses on relationships when teaching children to understand and manage emotions.

“We believe, and it has been demonstrated in research, that when you address mental health needs initially, at the first sign, we have a great opportunity to change the course of that child’s life, and really experience that for the child, their family, and their caregivers,” Dotson said.

The Children’s Center of Utah and the Kim C. Gardner Institute for Policy at the University of Utah host the second Ready! flexible! The Utah Early Childhood Mental Health Summit—a series of discussions on mental health—Wednesday, December 15, 9-11 a.m. Dotson said the event aims to raise awareness of early childhood mental health, create common language and understanding, and build a framework to advance early childhood mental health outcomes. Mental health of children and families.

She said the first summit was held remotely, which brought more people to the event. Holding the summit remotely also means that people who register but are unable to attend, have the ability to watch the event later.

Discussions will address policy recommendations created by the Utah Early Childhood Mental Health Working Group, which has been striving to address policies that can enhance Utah’s approach to early childhood mental health, as well as lead to solutions to common issues.

“Tackling the complexities of early childhood mental health needs everyone – policy makers, researchers, child care providers, community leaders and mental health professionals – to come together,” Dotson said. “Our goal with this annual summit is to bring together these brilliant minds so that we can move forward together and build stronger future solutions to address early childhood mental health issues in Utah. We are very grateful to all those who continue to show their support for – from young children and their families.”

Utah Governor Spencer Cox and First Lady Abby Cox are scheduled to speak on Wednesday.

“Our children are struggling and they need our support,” Cox said. “This summit will bring more focused attention to the mental health needs of our young children in Utah and help us develop policy solutions to help them thrive.”

The keynote speaker at the summit is Dr. Brenda Jones Harden, who is the Alison Richman Professor of Children and Families at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. She plans to discuss “disparities in mental health among minorities, the effects of COVID-19 on children’s mental health, and brain development,” as stated in a press release regarding the event.

“She’s a fantastic researcher and she’s done a lot of studies,” Dotson said. “We’re very excited to have her with us.”

Additionally, Wednesday’s event will include a panel discussion to address the changes statewide that will include state executives, private researchers and mental health experts.

Registration will be open even just before the summit opens, and anyone who wants to watch the summit can register online at childrenscenterutah.org. Dotson said they hope that, through the summit, people who interact with children are made more aware of how to find and understand resources.

“We want every child to interact with adults in their lives who understand and meet them wherever they are. And when the adults in children’s lives realize that children are mentally healthy, and may have mental health needs and concerns, we can identify those early and have that child, their family, and their caregivers the help they need to address these concerns,” Dustin said.

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