iowastateMaking sure children grow up in a safe and stable environment is the goal of Iowa State University researchers working on a major evaluation of Public Health, Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting programs in the US.

Researchers want to improve effectiveness as well as access for families to prevention and intervention programs.

Critical mental health development overlooked
Kere Hughes-Belding, an associate professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State, says the work is critical to the mental and emotional development of children. It’s an aspect that is often overlooked, but is just as important as early childhood education, she said.

“This is such a critical age and period of development in a child’s life. There really is no better age to intervene and get the most benefit,” Hughes-Belding said. “The more we can do to promote nurturing and caring relationships between parent and child, the better outcomes for the child.”

Interviewing families
Researchers will start by interviewing families who participate in the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting programs. Many of these families are also dealing with complex problems such as poverty, unemployment and chronic depression, as well as substance abuse issues. Hughes-Belding says parents are generally motivated to do what is best for their children, but may lack the skills or ability to improve the situation without outside support.

The research team also plans to work with the home visitors who provide the services and videotape their interactions with families to get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.

“The results from this evaluation project will give us information about the characteristics, training and support needed for effective home visitation with at-risk families of very young children,” she added.

Training for child care providers and educators
Giving parents the tools to be better parents is just one piece of the puzzle. Hughes-Belding says child care providers and early childhood educators need training to know how to intervene when a child shows signs of behavioral or emotional problems.

Iowa State has recently begun offering a new graduate certificate in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

The University hope that if child care providers or early educators recognise these signs of stress and have the proper training, they will have the confidence to intervene. In addition to training, there must be a social structure of support in place to connect families with the needed resources.

“As a community, the mental health of our youngest children should be a top priority,” Hughes-Belding concluded. “We should do anything we can to break negative interaction cycles in families and early education settings in order to promote resiliency.”

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