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Guiding Principles

The Infant and Early Childhood Division of the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health (MACMH-IEC) is committed to being a multidisciplinary resource for integrating young children’s social-emotional development research into the practices and policies affecting all young children, prenatal through age five, and their families in the state of Minnesota to promote optimal developmental outcomes.  To achieve this, our evidence-based guiding principles include the following:

  1. Development is cumulative and is a transactional process, the product of the interaction of genes and all experiences, beginning prenatally. From birth, children are active participants in their own development as they learn to select, engage and interpret experiences based on their earliest experiences. This transactional process establishes the trajectory for future development. It is early caregiving relationships, and the systems which surround them, that provide the basic structure within which all development unfolds. (1,2,3,5,8,9,10)
  2. The brain is developing rapidly in the first years of life and all domains of development are interdependent, creating the foundation for all subsequent development, including lifelong learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health. Because brain development stabilizes with age, “it’s easier and more effective to influence a baby’s developing brain architecture than to rewire parts of its circuitry in the adult years.” (1,2,3,5,6,7,8,9,10)
  3. Relationships are the catalyst and the context for all early learning. While family members are the most important and influential relationships, children’s relationships with other caregivers also influence developmental outcomes. Therefore, promotion, prevention and intervention for young children’s healthy development must be multi-generational and sensitive to families’ and caregivers’ values and culture. (1,5,6,7,9,10)
  4. Early intervention for children whose development is at risk has been shown to shift the balance from risk to resiliency. While the earliest years of a child’s life are a time of robust development, they are also a time of profound vulnerability. Development can be seriously compromised not only by delay or disability, but also by environmental influences including poverty, parental mental illness, substance abuse, parental history of trauma and their experience of being parented, family violence, child abuse and neglect, loss of a caregiver, and poor quality child care. Policy and practice must acknowledge and address all these influences to assure optimal developmental outcomes for all children. (1,2,3,5,6)
  5. Working with young children, their families and caregivers requires a specialized set of competencies, firmly grounded in the unique developmental and relational needs of the earliest years. Infant and early childhood professionals represent a variety of disciplines, spanning a variety of program and service settings, including early care and education, early intervention, mental and physical health and child welfare. Thus, a professional development system, based on an evidence-based core competencies system that formally recognizes an individual’s qualifications for working with children prenatal to five, including skill in identifying and responding to both adults’ and children’s developmental needs, should be integrated across all disciplines. (2,3,4,10)
  6. Working with young children and their families is inherently arousing and the capacity for reflection on one’s own feelings, reactions, and behaviors, and those of others is among the essential competencies for infant and early childhood professionals. Therefore, this complex work is best accomplished with supports that include reflective consultation/supervision. (4,10)
  7. Programs and services for very young children and their families should be organized within cohesive systems that coordinate and align all the components that make up a comprehensive early childhood system, early learning guidelines, and quality improvement initiatives. This is necessary to assure the availability and access to high quality, affordable, integrated services that promote healthy developmental outcomes. (1,2,3,9,10)


  1. Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2007). A Science-based Framework for Early  Childhood Policy: Using Evidence to Improve Outcomes in Learning, Behavior, and Health for Vulnerable  Children.
  2. Gebhard, Barbara. (2009). Early Experiences Matter: A guide to improved policies for infants and  toddlers. ZERO TO THREE Policy Center,
  3. Gebhard, Barbara, Susan Ochshorn and Lynn Jones, Toward a bright future for our youngest children–Building a strong infant-toddler workforce, ZERO TO THREE Policy Center, 2010,
  4. Michigan Infant Mental Health Association (Mi-AIMH). 2011. Competency Guidelines.
  5. National Research Council. (2000). Shonkoff, J. & D. Phillips. (Eds.) From neurons to neighborhoods: The  science of early childhood development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press
  6. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2007). The Science of Early Childhood Development.
  7. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, (2007). The timing and quality of early experiences combine to shape brain architecture. Working Paper #5.
  8. Smith, S., S. Stagman, S. Blank, C. Ong, K. McDow. (2011).  Building Strong Systems of Support for Young   Children’s Mental Health: Key Strategies for States and a Planning Tool. National Center for Children in   Poverty.  Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University
  9. Sroufe, L. Alan, Byron Egeland, Elizabeth Carlson, W. Andrew Collins. (2009). The Development of the Person: The Minnesota Study of Risk and Adaptation from Birth to Adulthood. NewYork. Guilford Press
  10. ZERO TO THREE: Federal Policy Resources . (2011) Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT ELC) Program.    2011-08-19