Voices’ Executive Director, Dr. Erica Fener Sitkoff, testified at the inaugural session of the House Study Committee on Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health. The committee is looking at how, and why, the state can encourage better models for early childhood development.

Dr. Erica Fener Sitkoff testifies in front of a House Study Committee

A child’s brain develops at a remarkable pace between birth and age eight, and we know missing key milestones during this crucial period can lead to developmental delays. But how does social and emotional health play a role?

Child advocates from across the state took part in the inaugural hearing, which lasted nearly five hours, including Juvenile Court Judge Peggy Walker who said she sees children come in front of her because they weren’t given the support they needed as a toddler.

Dr. Fener Sitkoff pointed out a couple of key issues, including the fact that Georgia does not have a data system tracking child healthcare providers — meaning we don’t know if we have enough providers for our child population. Fener Sitkoff showed Voices’ short video, “Four Pathways of Access,” which highlights gaps in state coverage where children can, and do, fall through the cracks. She also presented a list of policy recommendations that could lead to improvements, including collecting data on mental health workforce at licensure, increasing the capacity of the Babies Can’t Wait program, adopting mental health diagnostic codes specific to young children, and enacting 12-month eligibility for new mothers by extending postpartum Medicaid so they have access to services to treat both physical health challenges like pre-eclampsia, and mental well-being, such as postpartum depression.

Watch the hearing here (Dr. Fener Sitkoff’s testimony starts at 46:14)

Read media coverage of the hearing here:

Lawmakers taking an extensive look at infant mental health and how it affects them later in life, Northwest Georgia News

Dempsey chairs study committee on stressors and babies’ brains, Northwest Georgia News

Child advocates call for more mental health services for infants, toddlers, Moultrie Observer

Infant, toddler health focus of hearing, The Center Square

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