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Indicators for Social-emotional Development in Early Childhood
A Guide for Local Stakeholders

Authors: Elizabeth A. Isakson, Louisa Higgins, Leslie Davidson, and Janice L. Cooper
Publication Date: November 2009

Introduction

Social-emotional development in young children encompasses how young children feel about themselves, how they behave and how they relate to people close to them, such as caregivers, teachers, and peers. Although infant and early childhood mental health are often used in the same way, the term social-emotional development illustrates the importance of prevention and early intervention.

There is strong evidence linking social-emotional health in the early childhood years (birth to 6) to subsequent school success and health in preteen and teen years, and to long term health and wellbeing in adulthood. However, research also shows that effective programs that address social-emotional health early in life can promote resilience and actually prevent mental health problems later in life.

Objectives

This report is intended to give local stakeholders the information and tools necessary to develop and use indicators for social-emotional development. This set of indicators can support communities in their efforts to implement and assess effective programs that promote young children’s wellness.

This report includes:

  • definitions of key concepts related to establishing indicators;
  • seven recommended indicators for social-emotional development;
  • a framework to determine local priorities and “get started” with indicator adoption;
  • resources for finding data at the community level for each indicator; and
  • how to interpret and use data collected for each of the suggested indicators.

It is important for local stakeholders to develop social-emotional indicators at the community level so that they can effectively plan, monitor, and refine programs that promote social-emotional health. To date, few states, cities, and communities have developed and used social-emotional indicators. Implementation of any of these indicators may initially prove to be challenging.