Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Saturday, January 19, 2008: 2:00 PM-3:45 PM
Empire Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
[CW] Parent Cognitions and Interactive Behavior as Targets for Early Intervention: a Role for Social Work in Infant Mental Health
Symposium Organizer:Michael J. MacKenzie, PhD, Columbia University
How Mothers Think about Their Infants Is Related to Mother-Infant Interaction
Sydney Hans, PhD, Linda G. Henson, MA, Cynthia Lashley, MA, Margaret Sokolowski, PhD
Goodness-of-Fit Effects on Caregiving Behavior: Infant Regulatory Behavior and Maternal Perceptions
Susan C. McDonough, PhD, Michael J. MacKenzie, PhD
Postpartum Depression and Mother-Infant Interactions: Findings from a Study of a Home-Based Therapeutic Intervention
Ruth Paris, PhD, M. Katherine Weinberg, PhD, Rendelle Bolton, MA
Physiological Links between Maternal Perceptions and Caregiving Behavior and Child Behavioral Regulation
Michael J. MacKenzie, PhD, Susan C. McDonough, PhD
Abstract Text:
The task of providing a consistent and nurturing home to a new baby is not an easy one. This is true even for families marked by strong interpersonal relationships, a reliable support network and sufficient emotional and financial resources. Unfortunately, for an increasing number of families in our society those resources are lacking and there exists limited mechanisms for outside support to help buffer families from the stress and uncertainty associated with the transition to parenthood. As new parents face not only external burdens, but also the daily hassles and pressures that accompany a new infant, the potential for problematic parent-child interactions, and in extreme cases escalation to child maltreatment, is very real. Moreover, problematic parent-child interactions during infancy are related in important, but complex and non-linear ways, to mental health problems during the preschool period and even later in life. The early improvement of the developmental course of at-risk children would reduce mental health problems not only in early childhood but also later in life.

This symposium examines the impact of the accumulation of stress and psychosocial risk factors in the lives of families with young infants on parental perceptions and behavior. The findings presented in this symposium support the theoretical contributions of Sameroff and Emde (1990), which highlight the role of early relationship disturbances in shaping the developing child's mental health. The symposium will explore questions such as: What happens to parental cognitions about their relationship with their baby and perceptions of the baby's behavior in situations of maternal depression or where the level of risk facing a family overwhelms their coping capacities and support mechanisms? If a caregiver develops negative perceptions about infant behavior, what impact does that have on subsequent caregiving behavior and child physiological and behavioral regulation? Through four separate longitudinal studies presented by scholars from four different schools of social work, this symposium sets out to address these questions. Although the answers provide real cause for concern, they also provide some potential for meaningful change in how we have organized ourselves as a society to support families in need.

Social workers represent the largest proportion of front-line mental health practitioners working with families making the transition to parenthood. Yet, many lack knowledge sufficient to implement preventive intervention models for infant mental health and early pediatric problem behavior. This represents a major failing of our field. While social work often pays lip service to the importance of early intervention, there has been a dearth of research focus in our field on early childhood as a window of opportunity for change. Shifting the public perception of the importance of addressing early relationship problems and social disadvantage and the resultant benefits to all of society must be a priority for social work.

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See more of Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)