Uncertain Funding for Early Childhood Mental Health Programs

The future remains uncertain for a core set of programs providing city-funded mental health services to children under age 5. 

Since 2004, the New York City Council has funded a group of service agencies to provide dedicated mental health services for very young children across the five boroughs. For several years, the funding project—known as the Children Under 5 Initiative—represented the only significant, dedicated source of city money for early childhood mental health services.

Funding for the initiative rose and fell during its first few years, but stabilized at $1.25 million from Fiscal Years 2011-14, according to Nora Moran, a policy analyst at United Neighborhood Houses, which represents one of the longtime grantees of the fund. The money supported eight service agencies across the city, with the capacity to serve more than 4,000 young children each year.

Shortly before leaving office in late 2014, then-mayor Michael Bloomberg baselined the initiative into the city budget, with funds to be distributed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. DOHMH maintained the City Council’s existing grantees in FY 2015, but released a plan to have providers compete for FY 2016 funding.

Under the DOHMH plan, funding would be distributed to fewer direct service providers (one per borough, rather than the City Council’s eight), as well as an agency responsible for training and technical assistance.

Providers, their advocates and City Council members objected to DOHMH’s competition plan, citing concerns that families would have to travel too far for services, and that fewer providers would make for less cultural diversity among programs. “Children’s mental health needs are complex, with unique family structures, language, culture, and religious practices all shaping the situation. Neighborhood-based providers are well-equipped to understand and address these issues, and can be responsive to these needs,” writes Moran of United Neighborhood Houses.

As a result of the conflict, funding for the programs was placed back under the control of the City Council for the current fiscal year, though it is still baselined in the projected budget for DOHMH in FY17. At the time of this writing, it is still unclear how funds will be distributed during the current fiscal year, says Dr. Gary Belkin, the executive deputy commissioner of the Division of Mental Hygiene. DOHMH officials will meet with City Council members in late July to negotiate the program’s future.

Find more information about DOHMH's work on social and emotional health here.