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Creating More Professionals to Support Parent-Child Bond with Infant Mental Health

A child’s earliest years are critical to their overall development. When parents or physicians identify potential problems or delays, they need to be addressed as soon as possible. But in the state of Illinois, a growing number of infants and toddlers who are eligible for much needed services through the state’s early intervention system, like physical therapy or speech therapy, aren’t receiving them.

According to a February 2024 report by the Illinois Department of Human Services, 7.6% of children who were approved for the state’s early intervention program are experiencing service delays. This means that there isn’t a therapist or appropriate professional in their area that can provide the services the child and their family require. In 2019, only 4.7% of the children who were approved for services saw delays—that number nearly doubled in just five years. As of November 2023, 400 Illinois families are waiting for services.

“Right now, in Illinois, there is a tremendous shortage of early intervention professionals,” says Sarah Martinez, MEd, Co-Director of Erikson’s new Master of Science in Early Childhood Education (MSECE) Early Intervention. “Families are waiting months for services for their child. Children that age don’t have time to wait.”

Erikson’s new degree program is unique because it looks at early intervention with an infant mental health lens. “We are focusing on relational developmental therapy,” Martinez says. “As a practitioner and instructor, I have seen how working from an infant mental health lens supports the parent-child relationship.  Development unfolds in the context of the relationship between an infant and their caregiver. When we attune to parents and caregivers with an infant mental health approach, we support them in building their capacity to enhance their child’s development.”

“Students will be ready to work not only on the developmental goals of the child, but also helping build the parents’ capacity to recognize what their child needs developmentally and have the strategies to support their child’s development,” continues Martinez. “We support parents in being present for their child.”

The online program begins in January 2025, and is designed both for working professionals already in the early childhood field who are looking to gain a better understanding of early intervention or those looking for a career pivot. “It is wonderful if students come with fundamental knowledge, if not, we help them get there,” Martinez says. “The idea is to deepen their understanding…. We are looking for students who love to work with infants and their families and really want to make a difference.”

The degree opens students up to a wide variety of career options including Developmental Therapist, Developmental Specialist in a Medical Setting, Home Visitor, family support specialist or other careers focused on infants, young children and their families.

“Students will be coming out with the skills that they need when they sit down with a family in their living room—they will be equipped to know what to say and what to do to support the family so the family can then support the child’s development,” Martinez says.

To learn more about being a part of the first cohort for the Master of Science in Early Childhood Education (MSECE) Early Intervention visit

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