Social-Emotional Development of Young Children, 0-5

The National Center for Children in Poverty, NCCP, published a study in August 2009 titled Social-emotional Development in Early Childhood, What Every Policymaker Should Know . Written by Cooper, Masi and Vick, the paper outlined the risks and barriers faced by young children with social, emotional, and behavioral problems. They emphasized the impact of the first five years of life on a child’s social and emotional development. Their data found:

  • Approximately 9% of children receiving mental health services in the U.S. were younger than 6 years.
  • Boys showed greater behavior problems than girls.
  • Between 0-5 years, from 9.5-14.2 % of children experienced social/emotional problems that negatively impacted functioning, school readiness, and development.

The highest prevalence of mental health disorders was from 1-26% in the category of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Behavior problems of preschool children showed:

2 years- 4.7%
3 years- 7.3 %
4 years- 13.2 %
5 years- 10.0%
Boys- 10.0%
Girls- 6.6 %

Risk factors included neighborhood characteristics and family income. Up to 50% of the problems could have been mediated by interventions targeting parenting. Poor attachment, especially maternal attachment negatively impacted the social and emotional development. African-American and Latino young children showed less secure attachment than Asian-American and White children. Race and ethnicity were particular factors, with more children of color being expelled from preschool than any other group.

Current service delivery through early intervention and treatment is a failure, young children not receiving the screening, services, or support they need.

  • Less than 1% of young children with emotional problems are identified.
  • Nearly 55% of physicians report they don’t use a standardized tool to screen for developmental delays.
  • Nearly 2-3 times more preschool children show signs of trauma-related impairment than are diagnosed.
  • 11% of young children receive services under IDEA. Of those, only 2-3% are children with emotional disturbance, while this increases by age 9 to 5-15%.
  • Only 4% of young children receiving Part C services through IDEA are identified as having social-emotional disturbance. This contrasts with parents of up to 25% of children getting EI services who reported their children as over anxious, hyperactive, depressed, or with having problems with social interactions.

More than 30% of parents of children getting EI services report problems in managing their children.
There are many barriers to treatment. These include policies of state Medicaid agencies, primary physicians who do not screen for maternal depression, and weak enforcement of IDEA Part C. The adverse impact of failing to meet the needs of young children results in multiple risk factors that compromise school success and a healthy adulthood.