Pilot Study of Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation in Illinois Finds Benefits

What We Did

Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC) is a relationship-based, collaborative support designed to improve the capacity of early childhood professionals to promote children’s mental health. We conducted a 15-month pilot study of the Illinois Model of IECMHC with 4 public health departments in the state of Illinois, two in the southern part of the state and two in the northern part. We used a mixed-methods design to examine the feasibility of implementing the Illinois Model in public health settings and assessed the potential impacts of the model on WIC and FCM staff.

What We Found

The Illinois Model was successfully implemented in all four health departments as measured by structural or dosage (number of hours provided) and process or alignment (types of activities provided) indicators of fidelity.

The Illinois Model showed positive effects as follows:

  • There was modest growth in staff reflective capacity over the 12-month pilot and increased skills in communicating and working with families.
  • Staff scores for items about their knowledge of strategies related to child social-emotional development on a self-assessment instrument used in the survey significantly increased.
  • Standardized measures of staff–supervisor relationships, reflective capacity, and staff well-being did not show change. Staff reported relatively consistent and relatively high levels on all constructs we measured in the surveys. Staff burnout and depression started low at baseline and remained so throughout the initiative.

We found relationships among some of the staff well-being variables. An increase in reflective supervision quality and increase in reflective capacity predicted a decrease in emotional exhaustion. Thus, strengthening the quality of reflective supervision and staff’s reflective capacity predicted reductions in burnout.

What It Means

This evaluation resulted in several important findings relevant to practitioners and researchers interested in understanding what the Illinois Model of IECMHC can accomplish for health department supervisors, staff, and families.

Practice: The findings of this study indicates that the Illinois Model can be adapted to public health settings, but its success is dependent upon the preparation and commitment of the health department staff, supervisors, and administrators.

Research: The study provides some evidence that the Illinois Model can strengthen the public health workforce and public health systems. However, further study of the model is needed. We recommend additional research with a larger sample and a longer study period—perhaps with a small comparison group—to draw more lessons about implementation and its effects on staff and supervisors.  Additionally, we recommend more study of the role of supervisors in implementing consultation in public health as supervisors are integral to supporting the efforts of consultants to improve the knowledge and skills of frontline staff.

A related report shared the findings from a 3-year pilot study of the Illinois Model of IECMHC with 23 early childhood programs, including child care, pre-K, and home visiting

Please contact Julie Spielberger or Tiffany Burkhardt for additional information.