Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Good Mental Health starts with early Childhood Relationships

The mental and emotional development of children is just as important as early childhood education, according to Iowa State researchers. 

Credit: Bob Elbert 

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

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

Kere Hughes-Belding
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." 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.

They want 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," Hughes-Belding said.

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