U-M part of team awarded $2.5 million to improve interactions between parents, teachers and toddlers

ANN ARBOR – Researchers from the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and Michigan State University will receive $2.5 million over five years in a cooperative agreement with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. They have designed a professional development program for teachers and an intervention for parents and will evaluate its effects on parent and teacher mindfulness and reflective functioning. The team hopes that strengthening those skills will support more responsive interactions between teachers, parents and children in Early Head Start (EHS) programs.

The project, titled “Recognizing, Reflecting, and Responding to Infant/Toddler Cues: An Integrated Parent-Teacher Intervention to Support Social Emotional Development through Caregiver Mindfulness and Sensitivity,” will develop and trial test a professional development curriculum for teachers to be implemented in Early Head Start settings. This professional development curriculum is modeled after the Mom Power program, a parenting intervention model for parents developed and implemented across Michigan by U-M faculty in psychiatry, Drs. Maria Muzik, M.D. , MSc., (co-PI of the study) and Katherine Rosenblum, Ph.D. (co-Investigator), and their colleague from the Department of Social Work, Ms. Melissa Schuster, licensed social worker and program coordinator of the Maternal Infant Health Program within the University of Michigan Health System.

“It’s exciting to be part of this ACF supported important work, using research to determine and implement best practices in classroom teaching,” Dr. Muzik said. “It is gratifying to imagine this work could make major impact on Early Head Start programing and children’s futures.”

Dr. Muzik is an assistant professor and medical director of the Women and Infants Mental health Clinic at the U-M Department of Psychiatry, and assistant research scientist at the Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan. Dr. Rosenblum, is an associate professor of psychiatry and program director of the Women and Infants Mental Health Destination Program, and associate research scientist at the Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan.

Together with their colleagues from the other university partners, Dr. Ann Stacks, Ph.D., (submitting co-PI), director of the Infant Mental Health program at WSU’s Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, and Drs. Claire Vallotton, Ph.D., (co-PI) associate professor and Holly Brophy-Herb, Ph.D., (co-investigator) professor of child development in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, this team will investigate whether an modified Mom Power program, delivered to teachers and parents in EHS, can improve parent and teacher communication and interactions with children to benefit children’s developmental outcomes. The program aims to enhance parent’s and teacher’s mindfulness, reflective functioning and sensitive responsiveness to children’s cues with the goal to better understand and respond to children’s attachment and developmental needs. Current parent and teacher trainings often focus solely on information transfer about child development and age-appropriate strategies, without addressing the changes in attitudes and skills needed to support caregiver-child interactions.

The University Research Corridor team awarded here is part of a larger group of faculty from five universities, known as the Michigan Infant-Toddler Research Exchange (MITRE), that has been working for several years now to foster cross-university research on best-practice-applied research in early intervention and early childhood education. Another research project of MITRE, lead by the U-M team and funded through State of Michigan and foundational support (Flinn Foundation and Gerstacker Foundation) is an evaluation of the Michigan Infant Mental Health –Home Visiting program, a home-based parenting intervention widely disseminated in the State of Michigan and across the U.S.

The ACF EHS project awarded to the research team was one of four projects funded by ACF across the country. The awarded sites will work cooperatively and share information about the implementation and scalability of each of the four projects. Funder ACF promotes the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals and communities with partnerships, funding, guidance, training and technical assistance.

The ACF cooperative agreement number is 904R0092-01-00.