Researchers from Wayne State University (WSU), Michigan State University (MSU) and the University of Michigan (U-M)—which make up the University Research Corridor (URC)—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.

These researchers have designed a program of professional development that aims to improve parent and teacher interactions with children by focusing on mindfulness, reflective functioning and responsiveness to children’s cues. The goal is to help caregivers better understand children’s attachment needs through video-based feedback and hands-on activities that reduce stress and promote sensitivity and responsiveness. Current parent and teacher trainings often focus on information about child development and age-appropriate strategies, without addressing the changes in attitudes and skills needed to support caregiver-child interactions. The team hopes that strengthening those skills will support more responsive interactions between teachers, parents and children in Early Head Start programs.

The first phase of the program, 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 pilot the professional development curriculum with teachers. The curriculum is modeled after the Mom Power program developed by U-M colleagues Maria Muzik, M.D., MSc., co-PI and assistant professor of psychiatry and Katherine Rosenblum, co-Investigator and associate professor of psychiatry. Phase II will include parents and teachers together as caregiving partners to support each child’s social-emotional development.

URC is one of four sites funded by ACF across the country, designed to work cooperatively and share information about the implementation and scalability of each approach. Unlike a grant, a cooperative agreement assumes substantial programmatic involvement between the funder and recipient after the award. In addition, the URC research team is part of a larger group of faculty from five universities, known as the Michigan Infant-Toddler Research Exchange (MITRE), which aims to foster cross-university research that has implications for best-practices in early intervention and early childhood education.

“It’s exciting to be part of ACF’s drive to infuse research into practice, using research to determine best practices for students and teachers,” said Ann Stacks, Ph.D., director of the Infant Mental Health program at WSU’s Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and principal investigator of the program. “The impact our work could have on Early Head Start programs and children’s futures is gratifying.”

The research team also consists of Claire Vallotton, Ph.D., associate professor (co-PI) and Holly Brophy-Herb, Ph.D., professor (co-investigator) of child development in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

For more information, visit: URC Mindfulness and Reflective Functioning Program.