Building Strong Roots: Nurturing Mental Health in Philadelphia's Children

May 23, 2024 | Policy Blog |

It’s never too early to think about the mental health of a child and their network of support. As a former Philadelphia Nurse-Family Partnership public health nurse home visitor, I got to join families’ parenting journey from pregnancy to their child turning 2 years old. As a nurse working with pregnant and parenting families, the gravity of my role in supporting families in shaping their developing child or children was not lost on me.

As a home visitor, I learned the value of building trusting relationships with families which allowed me to be a guide in exploring their many dimensions of health. The mental health of caregivers and their children always stood out to me. Child and family-serving providers have a unique opportunity to help families understand the connection between their mental health and the mental health of the children in their lives.

What is infant and early childhood mental health?

Infant and early childhood mental health includes how infants and young children develop the capacity to form safe and secure relationships, regulate and express emotions, and engage with their environment. Several factors can impede a child’s growth, development, behavior, and long-term mental health and well-being, such as poor nutrition, unstable or unsafe housing, or having a caregiver living with mental illness or substance dependency. Many children in Philadelphia are exposed to these and other circumstances like violence and discrimination that threaten their ability to grow optimally. Thankfully, there are strategies to alleviate and prevent negative health outcomes. 

The impression that positive interactions and experiences leave in our lives is undeniable. They can counterbalance or outweigh negative experiences and build resilience. Positive interactions and experiences with caregivers and other caring adults can mitigate or prevent the impact of traumatic or adverse experiences. The community is also a part of shaping positive experiences in our lives. Embracing the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” can improve child and adult health outcomes. When caregivers and their children have access to quality programming and tangible tools and resources, their ability to care for themselves and the youngsters around them improves. I’m proud to be part of a community of providers working to support children and families by developing programming that builds the capacity of the people involved in children’s lives.

What is Philly SPROUT?

The National Nurse-Led Care Consortium (NNCC) and the Joseph J. Peter’s Institute (JJPI) are working on a new initiative to improve mental health outcomes among children in Philadelphia further. The program is called Philly SPROUT (Supporting Parenting Relationship through Outreach, Understanding & Training) and takes a generational and systems-level approach. Philly SPROUT will support children and their caregivers participating in NNCC’s home visiting programs, Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and Mabel Morris Family Home Visit Program (MM), through mental health services provided by JJPI mental health clinicians. The program will also enhance the capacity of Philadelphia-based child and family service providers through infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) training and learning collaboratives.

Where can I learn more about Philly SPROUT IECMH training?

Home visitors and other child and family-serving providers play a critical role in empowering families to build on their strengths and learn parenting and life skills that will support optimal child development. Philly SPROUT training offerings will be open to providers across multiple disciplines (child welfare, early intervention, early childhood education, and home visiting) and supply providers with additional tools to recognize and address the mental health needs of the children they serve. Our goal is to create a common language among the four sectors and highlight topics and interventions that positively affect children and their surrounding systems of support. Philadelphia child or family-serving providers interested in IECMH training offerings can view the NNCC website and click on the Training Tab for upcoming webinars or events.

Join NNCC and JJPI as we kick off our training series for the Philly SPROUT Project, with speaker PAULA DOYLE ZEANAH, PhD, MSN, RN, FAAN, from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Tulane University School of Medicine, on June 6 from 12:00 - 1:30 p.m. to introduce why infant and early childhood mental health is important to fields supporting children and families in Philadelphia. We will review the early experience of infants and brain development, discuss attachment and its relevance, and the provider’s role in addressing infant mental health.

Register for the Training

Introduction to Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health - Why is this Important?
Click Here


This publication was made possible by Grant Award #1H79SM086431-01 from SAMHSA. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the SAMHSA.


  1. Mental Health of Parents and Primary Caregivers by Sex and Associated Child Health Indicators
  2. Children’s Mental Health - CDC
  3. Promoting Infant-Early Childhood and Parent Mental Health in Home Visiting Programs - National Center for Children in Poverty
  4. The Basics of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: A Briefing Paper - Zero to Three
  5. Adverse Childhood Experiences - CDC
  6. Growing Up Philly: The Health and Well-Being of Philadelphia’s Children - City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health
  7. Adverse Childhood Experiences Prevention Strategy - CDC
  8. Adverse Childhood Experiences Prevention Resource for Action: a Compilation of the Best Available Evidence - CDC



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About The Author

Erin Graham is a former Nurse-Family Partnership nurse, now the Senior Director of Healthcare Integration.

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