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Inspired by the work of Selma Fraiberg and her colleagues who coined the phrase infant mental health (Fraiberg, 1980), practitioners in Michigan designed services to identify and treat developmental and relationship disturbances in infancy and early parenthood. The pioneering infant mental health specialists were challenged to understand the emotional experiences and needs of infants while remaining curious and attuned to parental behavior and mental health needs within the context of developing parent-child relationships. Specialists worked with parents and infants together, most often in clients’ homes but also in clinics and settings for assessment and service delivery. [Intervention and] treatment strategies varied, including concrete assistance, emotional support, developmental guidance, early relationship assessment and support, infant parent psychotherapy, and advocacy (Weatherston, 2001).

As infant mental health practice evolved in Michigan, clinicians, university faculty, and policymakers became increasingly concerned about the training needs of professionals for quality service in the infant mental health field. Competency, as determined by expert consensus, required the development of a unique knowledge base, clinical assessment, and [intervention/] treatment skills specific to infancy and early parenthood, and [reflective] clinical supervisory experiences that would lead to best practice. These basic components were approved by the MI-AIMH Board of Directors in 1983 and outlined in the MI-AIMH Training Guidelines (1986) to guide pre-service, graduate, and in-service training of infant mental health specialist in institutes, colleges, universities, and work settings.

There are four levels of competency within the NMAIMH Endorsement®:

  1. Infant Family Associate
  2. Infant Family Specialist
  3. Infant Mental Health Specialist
  4. Infant Mental Health Mentor

Each level recognizes the educational experiences, specialized in-service training experiences, and work experiences appropriate for best service outcomes for infants, very young children, and families. Detailed information about the requirements for specialized education, work, in-service training, and reflective supervision/consultation experiences are different at each level and can be found within this publication.

The intent of this publication is to provide a guide for those working with pregnant women and families with children ages birth to three years and for those offering training to them; however, professionals who contributed to these Competency Guidelines agreed that they also might guide those working with young children up to five years (or 47 months) and their families. The overarching principle of the guidelines is that all development occurs within the context of relationships. Each competency detail and the behaviors identified in these guidelines promote this basic understanding.