Infant Mental Health

Infant mental health services provide home-based parent-infant support and intervention services to families where the parent's condition and life circumstances or the characteristics of the infant threaten the parent-infant attachment and the consequent social, emotional, behavioral and cognitive development of the infant. Services reduce the incidence and prevalence of abuse, neglect, developmental delay, behavioral and emotional disorder.

Community mental health services programs may provide infant mental health services as a specific service (Medicaid B 3 Service) or as part of a Department of Health and Human Services enrolled home-based program.

The population served by an infant mental health specialist will vary community by community but typically involves families with multiple risks. Those risk factors may include:   adolescent parents, poor, single parents, first born infants, low birth weight infants, and parents had a diagnosis of mental illness, developmental disability, or substance abuse.

The infant mental health specialist provides home visits to families who are enrolled during pregnancy, around the time of birth or during the infant's first year.   The specialist provides weekly home visits or more frequent visits if the family is in crisis.   The service includes addressing the needs of the infant and other young children in the family and the mental health needs of the mother.


To promote positive parent-infant interactions, healthy infant development and parental competencies, the infant mental health specialist


·     Establishes a trusting relationship, nurturing the parent so that she can nurture the child

·     Facilitates access to community resources related to basic needs, child care and parents health and self-sufficiency; encourages parent to attend to health and safety issues

·      Provides guidance and support in the resolution of crises

·      Teaches problem solving and decision making skills

·      Focuses on the infant within the context of the parent-infant relationship

·      Provides guidance about the infant's growth and development; uses assessment to indicate infant's capabilities

·      Encourages and reinforces parent to observe and interact appropriately with the infant

·     Observes patterns of interaction and defines issues of clinical concern related to the infant, past history and current relationships

·     Strengthens parent's capacity to provide appropriate stimulation to encourage development

·    Uses clinical skills to enable parent to resolve own and familial conflicts

·     Assists parent identify feelings, understand reactions, defenses and copying strategies and develop healthier patterns of interaction

·    Helps parent to understand need for social support and to connect to information and formal sources of     support.


Staff Qualifications

Persons selected to work with infants and families at risk must be a masters-prepared, mental health therapist who has training in infant mental health interventions.   The infant mental health therapist has experiences that prepare them for this type of service.    Previous experience with families having multiple challenges or with young children or adolescents is helpful background.


The infant mental health specialist needs knowledge in all aspects of infant development, infant care and family functioning as well as clinical processes and intervention skills.   Infant mental health specialists must be knowledgeable about:


·    Normal infant development within the first 3 years of life, including physical, cognitive social and emotional   domain

·    Early brain development and implications for parenting

·    Child care practices

·    Attachment theory and early relationship development

·    Disorders of infancy and toddler hood

·    Family development and early parenthood

·    Characteristics and needs of chronically stressed or dysfunctional families

·    Screening and assessment instruments for identification of developmental progress, concerns and delays

·    Strategies for developmental and therapeutic interventions

·    Special issues related to emotional health (e.g., prematurity, failure to thrive, adolescent parenthood, maternal depression, violence and its impact on families, grief and loss, substance use)


Infant mental health specialist develops and uses a variety of skills and strategies for effective and compassionate parent-infant intervention.   They support the construction of a working relationship between parent and specialist as well as the relationship between the parent and the child.


Infant mental health work will generally require that both the agency and the individual make a substantial investment in training and professional development.   Please contact the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health (see website address, telephone number in Resources/Reference section below) for information on Infant Mental Health training opportunities including Reflective Supervision  


Additional Resources/References:


MIAIMH also has an endorsement program for staff training in infant mental health called MI-AIMH Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-Focused Practice Promoting Infant Mental Health, Competency Guidelines.


Social and Emotional Development in Young Children. A Guide developed by the Michigan Department of  Health and Human Services can be downloaded at:


Social and Emotional Developmental Wheels

Two developmental wheels touch on key social and emotional milestones for infants, toddlers and young children and provides ideas for parents and providers on how to promote these important skills   Both Baby Stages (0-3 years) wheel and the Preschool Stages (2-5 years) wheel are available to Michigan residents for $1.25 plus shipping and handling and to non-Michigan residents for $2.00 per wheel plus shipping and handling. Wheels may be ordered in English or Spanish. Contact: or Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health offices at:   Telephone: (734) 785-7700, ext. 7194, or e-mail to to place your order.




Contact: Mary Ludtke

              Tina Jones