infant and early mental health promotion

Care Pathways in Infant and Early Mental Health


The Infant and Early Mental Health Care Pathways pilot project was born out of the findings and recommendations from Beyond Building Blocks: Investing in the lifelong mental health of Ontario’s 3-6-year-olds, a report highlighting the unique mental health and social-emotional challenges faced by young children, and the impact these challenges may have on their optimal development in the absence of appropriate supports. One of the report's recommendations was to develop infant and early mental health care pathways guiding children and families to, through and out of care ensuring that they are matched with the best services, at the right time, and in the most appropriate format for the family.

Several community leaders working with post its on a poster and discussing how to position them to represent existing pathways of care for infant and early mental health in their community

In 2020-21, in collaboration with the Knowledge Institute on Child and Youth Mental Health and Addictions (the Knowledge Institute), and in partnership with community-based, cross-sectoral groups of professionals, IEMHP coordinated and piloted a series of workshops aiming to unravel the care and service pathways that can be developed to support infant and early mental health in 3 pilot communities. By breaking down silos and encouraging dialogue and partnerships across sectors, these workshops resulted in the development of a pathways map that will guide families’ journey through available infant and early mental health support services in each community.

IEMHP is available to guide agencies, communities or government through this unique and beneficial process of discovery towards improving systems of care for infants, young children and their families. Should you be interested in learning more about how you can develop infant and early mental health care pathways in your community, please contact us.


In the fall of 2019 and the winter of 2020, IEMHP and the Knowledge Institute met with 3 communities; the City of Hamilton, Simcoe County and Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, to break down silos and build pathways that would better address the needs of children and their families seeking access to mental health and social-emotional supports. We invited leaders from various sectors (Public Health, Early Learning and Care, Children’s Mental Health, Education, Child Protection, Primary Care/Family Health Teams, and Children’s Treatment Centres) to engage in discussions that helped us identify the following:

  • Opportunities to enhance existing programs, services, knowledge, and policies affecting children prenatal to age 6.
  • What a care pathway focused on supporting the mental health of children from prenatal to six might look like.
  • Opportunity to create comprehensive pathways to services to improve outcomes for children and their families.
  • Steps required to implement and evaluate these care pathways in the community.

At the end of a workshop, the maps created from post its on posters, as messy as they may look, are gathered for all sectors and areas and gathered into global maps by the facilitators.


Increasing practitioners competence, confidence and capacity

  • Two of the three communities were able to create maps at the end of the pilot, the third one finalizing them through a series of consultations. Examples of finalized maps are provided below. Click on a map to access the entire series of pathways for that community. 
  • Interestingly, the Indigenous community of Simcoe County taught us that in some instances, one map for an entire community is not inclusive enough. Instead, groups within communities may benefit from developing maps that are more meaningful to the families they serve and specific geographic locations within a community.
An Example of a Care Pathway developed with the City of Hamilton An Example of a Care Pathway developed with the Simcoe County

Infant and early mental health care pathways maps

Guided by IEMHP and the Knowledge Institute, infant and early mental health champions were invited to create community-specific Implementation Teams. These teams, including decisions-makers representative of their sectors, are a key factor in implementing the pathways and making the work that took place in each community sustainable: they lead the ongoing tasks required to update the pathway to better meet the needs of families as well as ensure that conversations about infant and early mental health remain a priority in the community.


This pilot, and the work it is based on, highlights the importance of:

  • ensuring high-quality, evidence-based information for service providers across sectors
  • developing clear care pathways for young Ontarians experiencing mental health challenges, regardless of the sector in which these issues present themselves 
  • using a planned implementation approach to ensure evidence-based service delivery

Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion, the hospital for sick children

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Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion
The Hospital for Sick Children

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