Infant mental health is a relatively new field, encompassing multiple disciplines and levels of service delivery. To assure that all professionals across disciplines who work with infants, young children, and their families have adequate skills, knowledge, and experiences to provide relationship-based services, AK-AIMH adopted a framework of infant mental health competencies that is gaining recognition across the nation.

This framework is the Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-Focused Practice Promoting Infant Mental Health developed by the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health (MI-AIMH).

MI-AIMH collaborated with over 100 members for a number of years to develop the Competency Guidelines and Endorsement system, which is designed to support and enhance culturally sensitive, relationship focused practice within the framework of infant mental health. Now, infant mental health associations from 17 states, including Alaska, across the nation have joined Michigan to form the League of States to support the growth of professionals’ competencies from a practice and policy perspective.  Alaska joined the League of States in 2011 with the financial support of:

  • Department of Health and Social Services- Alaska Infant Learning Program
  • Department of Health and Social Services- Early Childhood Comprehensive System

The Value of a Competency-Based System of Endorsement

The Infant Mental Health (IMH) Endorsement is a verifiable process that recognizes the knowledge and training among professionals across disciplines within an organized system of culturally sensitive, relationship-focused learning and work experiences that promote infant mental health. This system also provides a set of competencies for professional development in the infant, early childhood and family field across disciplines. Moreover, working in the infant mental health field is both rewarding and has challenges. Professionals are often exposed to experiences that can lead to secondary trauma and compassion fatigue. The IMH Endorsement addresses these issues and promotes professionals’ well-being through relationship-based standards (e.g., ongoing Reflective Supervision/Consultation.) 

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health across Disciplines

Science has illustrated that development is inter-related such that physical-motor, cognitive, and social-emotional development influence each other. Young children develop and learn in the context of relationships. Given the critical nature early relationships, it is imperative that all care givers and professionals touching the lives of young children have the knowledge and skills to promote healthy early development, including social-emotional development or infant mental health. Infant and early childhood mental health is part of a wide variety of professions, including (but not limited to):

  • Early child care and education
  • Home visiting programs
  • Physical and medical care
  • Child welfare
  • Mental health services
  • Public policy
  • Research
  • Legal and Judicial services
  • Corrections and Law Enforcement
  • Prenatal and Postnatal Care
  • Early intervention
  • Social Work
  • Speech-Language, Occupational and Physical Therapy

The IMH Endorsement offers individuals in each of these disciplines a professional development plan that focuses on knowledge, best practice skills, and reflective work experiences which leads to increased confidence and credibility within the infant and family field. In addition, having the IMH Endorsement will inform prospective employers, peers, referral sources, families, and the public at large that an individual who is providing services to infants and their families meets standards that have been approved by a professional organization devoted to the optimal development of very young children. The AK-AIMH Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-focused Practice Promoting Infant Mental Health (IMH-E®) is not a license or certification, but rather an overlay onto a person’s professional credentials that recognizes achievement of knowledge and training in the area of infant and early childhood mental health.  Finally, IMH Endorsed professionals, and those working towards IMH Endorsement, are connected to a network of individuals who support them through the more challenging, albeit rewarding, aspects of work within the infant mental health field.

In Alaska, AK-AIMH administers and coordinates this IMH Endorsement system. IMH Endorsement verifies that an individual has attained a specified level of functioning and understanding about the promotion of infant mental health, corresponding to education, skills and experience in four categories:

  • Infant Family Associate (Level I)
  • Infant and Family Specialist (Level II)
  • Infant Mental Health Specialist (Level III)
  • Infant Mental Health Mentor (Level IV)

The details of each knowledge/skills area are very specifically described at each level. The Competency Guidelines are available here.