When to Refer

Health and developmental vulnerabilities, parenting difficulties, domestic violence, family discord, and other major child and family stressors may warrant the delivery of preventive intervention services delivered in a variety of settings including early intervention programs, home visiting programs, and behavioral health programs. In some cases, more intensive and focused mental health services are needed to support child and family needs. These services are typically provided through county behavioral/mental agencies or mental health providers working under insurance contracts or fee for service arrangements. Monitoring families where risks are known and linking them to a range of supportive services from preventive intervention to therapeutic infant/early childhood/family services is crucial for child and family health and well-being.

How to Refer

Screenings indicating symptoms of a behavioral/mental health concern in either the infant/toddler or parent should be followed by a referral to a local mental health agency or provider for further assessment and treatment. The referral process begins by discussing the results of the screening with the parent and getting parental consent for referral to the local Behavioral/Mental Health Agency or provider.   Most county departments of behavioral/mental health operate resource lines or hotlines that can provide confidential mental health information, referrals to service providers, and crisis counseling at any day or time. Numbers for these hotlines are generally available on the behavioral/mental health website for each county.

A referral to the local Early Start (Regional Center Part C program) can also be made when there are physician or parent concerns about infant or toddler behavior or developmental vulnerabilities. Early Start referral begins by contacting the local regional center and asking to speak to the Early Start intake person. Anyone can make an Early Start referral to the regional center. The regional center will connect the family to the local mental health agency if mental health services are needed or to the local educational agency if the child is over age 3.

Note: Parent consent is a part of the referral process. Be sure to inform parents that they will need to give their consent to the mental health agency or regional center to start the evaluation process.

Follow-Up After Referral

It is important to check in with the family after you recommend services to be sure that they understood the reason(s) for referral to a behavioral/health provider and were able to access services. This is particularly important because of the stigma attached to mental health.

Local Family Resource Centers (FRCs) may be of assistance to both families and providers in navigating developmental and mental health systems. To locate the nearest FRC, families can search the online Family Resource Center Network of California Directory, call 916-993-7781, or leave a message with the Babyline at 800-515-2229 (BABY).