MARQUETTE, Mich. (WZMQ) – Melissa Copenhaver, President of the U.P. Chapter for the Michigan Association of Infant Mental Health, shed light on the crucial strides being made in the field of infant mental health in Upper Michigan. Copenhaver, a Family Nurse Practitioner, clinical social worker, and Certified Mental Health Integrative Medicine Provider, highlighted the significance of recent brain imaging techniques that identify the impact of toxic stress on early childhood brain development. She noted that understanding the mother’s experiences during pregnancy, especially in cases of domestic violence, has revealed its lasting effects on the fetus and newborn.
Copenhaver explained that the delivery of infant mental health services varies among counties, often dependent on the relationships between providers and the court system. Court referrals are a common source, alongside referrals from Northpointe and Headstart programs.
The focus of infant behavioral health services depends on the goals for the child. When reunification is the aim, efforts center around strengthening the relationship between the child and their biological parents. In cases of potential termination of parental rights, they facilitate closure activities and find appropriate living arrangements for the child, offering support to caregivers.
Infant mental health services primarily target children aged 0 to 3, but extend to older children who have faced toxic stress or harm. The ultimate goal is to establish a strong attachment between the child and a caregiver, providing them with a nurturing foundation.
“The actual impact is sometimes really hard to measure, because what we’re really working on is setting that child up with good attachment to some provider or to some caregiver, so then that’s the lens that they kind of grow up and see the world through, and hopefully they may be able to provide more nurturing care to their children, if they choose to have children,” remarked Copenhaver.
Copenhaver shared success stories, highlighting that their interventions often result in better developmental outcomes for children, enabling them to thrive in childcare settings and Headstart programs. She mentioned a program in Suunta that offers social-emotional consultations for childcare providers, effectively maintaining children in these settings and potentially reducing future risks, including incarceration.
“One of the programs that I work out of in Suunta, we do consultations. Social emotional consultations for child care providers, and the goal of that program is to maintain those kids in the childcare setting, because research shows that when children are expelled from child care or Head Start, there’s an increased risk for them being incarcerated when they’re older. And so in that program, we’ve been able to demonstrate improvements. We do what’s called a DECA, which is a screening tool for social emotional health. We do one when we first start services, and we do one when we’re wrapping up services,” Copenhaver stated. DECA stands for Deveraux early childhood assessment.
To assess parent-child bonding and attachment, Michigan predominantly uses the Piccolo assessment. Services are provided for Pathways, covering Marquette, Alger, Luce, and Delta Counties, with sporadic support for Dickinson County in childcare consulting.
Despite the program’s successes, Copenhaver stressed the complexity of coordinating the diverse needs of various stakeholders in each case. Her role as an infant mental health therapist becomes that of advocating for the child’s best interests. She discussed the differences in assessing infants versus a child, adolescent, or adult. “It’s so difficult, because we’re having to kind of overcome perceptions. A lot of people don’t think infants and toddlers can have mental health issues, and so we have to be able to use some of our own specialized tools,” explained Copenhaver.
A significant challenge in infant mental health cases is substance misuse, present in at least half of the cases. Substance abuse is a substantial barrier to effective treatment.
Copenhaver underlined the vital role of infant mental health treatment, emphasizing that 90% of brain growth occurs within the first five years, providing ample opportunities to equip children with the skills they need for adulthood. However, she acknowledged the difficulty in changing perceptions that infants and toddlers can experience mental health issues. The diagnostic criteria for children under 5 (DC0-5) helps in understanding these issues in young children.
Copenhaver relayed that parents often parent based on their own upbringing, making self-reflection and support crucial for effective child-rearing. Infant mental health therapy primarily involves working on the relationship between the child and their caregiver.
Postpartum depression is a significant concern in infant mental health cases, with stigma often preventing mothers from seeking help. “It can be a big issue,” she noted, adding “and there’s so much stigma around Moms feeling like they can speak up if they’re having depression, so we do see that frequently.”
Copenhaver drew attention to ‘The still face’ as a reference tool, illustrating the impact on a baby when a caregiver does not respond due to factors like depression or substance use. This tool demonstrates how crucial caregiver responsiveness is for a child’s emotional well-being.
For a diagram of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, visit:
For consultations or more information on Copenhaver’s services, visit:
For a demonstration of “The Still Face” experiment, Copenhaver recommends this resource:
For Services or screenings through NorthPointe in Dickinson County, visit:
For more information on the Piccolo Assessment in measuring parent/child bonding and attachment, a state standard, visit: