search button
newscenter logo
Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Follow SDSU Follow SDSU on Twitter Follow SDSU on Facebook SDSU RSS Feed

A teacher sat with her students in an elementary school classroom. (Photo: Adobe Stock) A teacher sat with her students in an elementary school classroom. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

SDSU Faculty Address Pandemic’s Lasting Impact on Young Children and Schools

With new federal funding, the Center for Excellence in Early Development is set to greatly expand successful early childhood mental health services across San Diego County.
By Michael Klitzing

Many preschool and elementary school classrooms are still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 crisis — particularly in low-income and immigrant communities hit hard by the pandemic. In its aftermath, children are still struggling to cope with trauma and lost opportunities for social-emotional development.

“Children came out of the pandemic with a lot of adverse experiences because there was way more poverty, death and illness,” said Lisa Linder, assistant professor in child and family development at San Diego State University. “Now everybody is trying to bounce back and it's just not easy.”

A $600,000 earmark in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, signed into law by President Biden in December, will enable SDSU’s Center for Excellence in Early Development (CEED) to help address COVID’s toll on early childhood mental health across San Diego County. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, the San Diego Unified School District and the First 5 San Diego Commission all wrote letters of support for the earmark, which was recommended for funding by U.S. Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-San Diego) and U.S. Senator Alex Padilla.

The federal funding will support the Bridge Model of Care, a project to bring CEED’s early childhood mental health consultation services into more county schools.

Currently, CEED sends clinicians from its Healthy Early Years (HEY) clinic into about 20 early education classrooms, programs, and family child care centers per year across San Diego County, mostly in moderate- and low-income communities. The program is now set to expand threefold and extend service up to third grade, as well.

Watch: Ensuring Healthy Early Years for San Diego Kids

HEY clinicians typically spend four hours per week for 12-15 weeks in classrooms, working with teachers to address social-emotional challenges and support families and teachers to get to the root of the issues at the source of the behavior — often instances of past trauma. The clinicians also develop classroom action plans and provide coaching to teachers on how to improve interactions with their students.

“It's meant to increase the capacity of the system, caregivers and families to support the children,” said Linder, who serves as co-director of CEED and executive director of Healthy Early Years.

“Behavior is a communication,” she added. CEED’s project “provides a reflective space to support teachers to begin thinking about what the behavior is telling us.”

Linder said a recent assessment showed interventions provided by Healthy Early Years significantly increased children’s social-emotional skills, as rated by the teacher. At the same time, the program lessened harsh teaching practices and boosted teacher sensitivity to children's emotions and needs.

The consultation services, Linder said, are critical to disrupting the preschool-to-prison pipeline, a phenomenon that often begins when adverse experiences faced by low-income children and children of color manifest themselves in behaviors teachers deem to be challenging. That often snowballs into discipline, expulsion, academic disengagement and, eventually, entry into the juvenile justice system.

“I think that there's a movement for consultation in California and a recognition of its capacity to be a preventative approach to the preschool-to-prison pipeline and shifting the focus away from the problem being within the child,” she said. “This funding is really setting the stage to create that infrastructure in San Diego County. This is a great way to provide mental health services in a very cost-effective way that makes an exponential impact.”