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College to partner with Harvard's Center on the Developing Child

Kathryn Kao

December 17, 2015

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The University of Georgia College of Education is partnering with Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child to develop innovative practices that support the healthy development of children ages 0 to 3 with toxic high stress.

The College is only one of six community partnerships currently working with Frontiers of Innovation (FOI), an applied initiative of the Center designed to accelerate the development and adoption of science-based innovations for underserved children.

Three professors in the department of communication sciences and special education are leading the initial FOI project: professor and department head Cynthia Vail, assistant professor Rebecca Lieberman-Betz and assistant professor Jenny Brown. Their main goal is to develop and test an intervention package that can support and increase childcare providers' use of responsive practices with infants and toddlers in the classroom.

"The long-term goal is to prevent infant/toddler stress and support their healthy early social emotional development, which in turn sets the stage for optimal development across developmental domains," said Vail, who specializes in early social emotional development and positive behavior supports.

The initial work will be conducted in early Head Start classrooms to determine the project's effectiveness before taking it to scale.

According to Vail, responsive caregiving is the base for healthy early social emotional development. Responsive caregivers read the cues of infants and toddlers and respond in a warm and nurturing manner. This is important because the way infants and caregivers interact with each other will build the foundation for later interaction pattern, said Vail.

"A wealth of studies has demonstrated the importance of responsive parenting, including interventions targeting the parents' use of responsive interactions with their infants," she said. "While researchers have identified the importance of high-quality group childcare and have determined a link between quality of childcare and infant stress, research is needed to determine how to impact the quality of care and provider responsivity in childcare centers serving low-income children."

In line with FOI's mission, the research partnership will establish a theory of change to achieve breakthrough outcomes for children. To accomplish this task, Vail along with Lieberman-Betz and Brown, will investigate the self-regulation skills and executive functioning of responsive caregivers who interact with underserved children on a daily basis.

Vail researches early intervention policy, teacher preparation, pro-social behavior and exercise as an antecedent intervention.

Lieberman-Betz's primary interests include delivering direct services to infants and toddlers with special needs and their families, as well as providing services within an inclusive classroom setting for preschool-age children with developmental delays and disabilities.

Brown's research focuses on improving functional communication outcomes for individuals in natural environments, as well as social communication intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder.