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Child and infant mental health is recognised as a field of inquiry in the international research literature and has received increased attention in recent decades. There is a growing body of international and Australian research supporting the existence and identification of mental health difficulties in early childhood (usually defined as birth – 8 years old).
Research indicates that promoting positive mental health occurs particularly through warm, responsive interactions with significant people in the early years. Positive mental health has many benefits such as assisting brain development; improving learning; helping children to develop the capacity to experience, regulate and express emotion; to form close secure, satisfying relationships; and to have the confidence to explore and discover their world. Addressing mental health difficulties during early childhood means that concerning behaviours have had less time to develop or become entrenched and reduces the risk of ongoing issues throughout life.
The external evaluation of the KidsMatter Primary initiative clearly showed that people working with children can implement evidence-based mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention practices. As a result the children (particularly those who had been experiencing mental health difficulties) benefited. There were also clear benefits for staff, parents and carers. An evaluation of the KidsMatter Early Childhood pilot is planned to be completed by mid 2012.