This roundtable of a diverse group of scholars is engaged in intervention and research on early parent-infant relational health, the foundation of infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH). Research demonstrates that infants and young children develop best in the context of responsive, stable, and nurturing relationships. However, the effects of structural racism and socio-economic determinants of parental mental health, family functioning, and child health outcomes destroy this delicate balance. Despite parenting under severe inequities, many socially excluded parents of color maintain strong families and raise healthy children. However, some traumatized and systematically disadvantaged parents of color remain unable to be the parents they aspire to be. As a field, we have failed to critically examine and confront the early childhood serving systems of care that continue to harm and disrupt families of color.
We will describe the state of the research concerning child outcomes associated with early parent-child relational health, including emerging evidence of the epigenetic transmission of the trauma of racial inequity. We will discuss what we have learned about interventions to support Black, Indigenous, and other mothers and fathers of color through racially sensitive research, policy, and practice interventions. Research barriers, including recruitment, access, and retention, exacerbated by agency policies and gatekeeping, will be discussed. We will explore the intersecting findings from the research on engaging young Black fathers whose children are in the foster care system, and challenges and strategies for recruiting a heterogeneous parent sample, inclusive of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and marital status. We will consider the meaning of researcher positionality and the opportunities and challenges of conducting research as 'insiders' who share lived experience with research participants and 'outsiders' who do not. Finally, we will address building, diversifying, and supporting the infant and early childhood mental health workforce and the disparity in the availability of BIPOC mental health/social work professionals in this work by decentering white supremacy in curriculum, administrative practices, and 'training' spaces. The role of culturally responsive reflective supervision will be illuminated as a best practice in training and education.