Early Childhood Program


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Early Childhood Programs

The purpose of the South Dakota Early Childhood Mental Health Collaborative is to ensure that low-income children, ages 0-5 and their caregivers, in rural areas of South Dakota have increased access to mental health services, including prevention, early identification, early intervention and treatment activities.

The adversity faced by children in low-income environments is widely studied with attention to exposure to numerous risky-factors and greater frequency of the development of behavioral and emotional difficulties. The geographic catchment area of this project is 14 counties in Eastern South Dakota, 10 of these counties are designated as mental health shortage areas and 13 have medically underserved communities. Nationally it is estimated that 9.5 – 14.2% of children from birth to five experience a social emotional or behavioral disturbance. Translated to the catchment area, approximately 2,754 to 4,117 children from birth to five are at risk for developing a social emotional or behavioral disturbance.

Early symptoms of developmental disorder and mental illness can appear in infancy and toddlerhood and if left untreated, these symptoms can seriously impact a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and impair their lifelong well-being.

For this project, the population of focus will be accessed through two South Dakota organizations. Southeastern Behavioral Healthcare (SEBH) is a community mental health agency serving Sioux Falls and surrounding communities where 71% of clients served have an annual household income of less than $15,000 per year.  Inter-Lakes Community Action Partnership (ICAP) Head Start serves the 14 counties in the catchment area and is a federally funded program that currently serves 390 children ages 0-5, of which at least 90% are at, or below, 100% of the federal poverty line.

The project has 3 specific goals:

  • Increase developmental screening, mental health referrals, and access to evidence based social-emotional learning curriculum for ICAP Head Start Children
  • Increase knowledge, skills and attitudes of early childhood mental health workforce in South Dakota to serve children ages 0-5 who are diagnosed with or at risk of developing an emotional disturbance, and their caregivers
  • Increase access to evidence-based therapeutic interventions in South Dakota for children diagnosed with or at risk for developing a severe emotional disturbance, and their caregivers


The project’s measurable objectives incorporate strategies to increase developmental screening for Head Start children and implementation of evidence-based social emotional learning curriculum. Measurable objectives also include increased work-force training and delivery of evidence-based therapeutic interventions such as Child-Centered Play Therapy and Theraplay, for low-income children and caregivers. An estimate of 270 children will receive services annually and an estimated 825 children will receive services throughout the course of the grant.

Some of the treatment activities and services utilized include:

Play Therapy

Play therapy is defined as the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process. Trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.


Theraplay is a child and family therapy for building and enhancing attachment, self-esteem, trust in others and joyful engagement. It is based on the natural patterns of playful, healthy interaction between parent and child. Theraplay interactions focus on four essential qualities found in parent-child relationships: Structure, Engagement, Nurture and Challenge. Theraplay sessions create an active and emotional connection between the child and parent or caregiver, resulting in a changed view of self as worthy and lovable and that relationships are positive and rewarding.

Early Intervention

Therapists strategically utilize play therapy to help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings (Gil, 1991). In play therapy, toys are like the child’s words and play is the child’s language (Landreth, 2002). Through play, therapists may help children learn more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skill deficits (Pedro-Carroll & Reddy, 2005). The positive relationship that develops between therapist and child during play therapy sessions can provide a corrective emotional experience necessary for healing. (Moustakas, 1997)


For more information about this program please contact Christie Leuth at ChristineM@southeasternbh.org.