COMMUNITIES as RESEARCHERS: Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative Receives Grant to Fund Research by Indigenous Communities

First Light Education Project Starting with What WorksThe Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative (IELC), led by First Light Education Project (Denver, CO) and the Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) (Boston, MA), announces a grant of $573,000 from the Foundation for Child Development for a two-year project starting in March 2022, titled, Indigenous ECD Community-Based Inquiry Project to Strengthen Research to Practice Partnerships, to strengthen the early learning workforce in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) in Michigan.

The IELC is partnering with the Wiikwedong Early Childhood Development Collaborative, a team of KBIC early childhood teachers, center directors, and providers. These practitioners are the primary researchers on this inquiry project, investigating ways to strengthen the work of current educators in the community, building new pathways to the profession for prospective early childhood educators, and sharing knowledge about practice—in particular, home visitation and engaging families—across community systems. This project is unique in that the community members are the researchers—designing their own research questions and conducting their own inquiry—making the results of the research relevant to the needs of the community, a critical and often missing aspect of research conducted in Native communities.

“This is Community-Based Inquiry (CBI) in its purest form. Community members are the researchers: they know the questions that need to be studied and generate critical ideas on how to implement solutions in practice,” says Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Founder and Principal Consultant of First Light Education Project and Director of the IELC. “CBI is especially important for Native communities, who are often the subjects of research but rarely the beneficiaries.”

The IELC is a national initiative designed for Indigenous communities to strengthen early childhood education by developing their own critical questions and constructing local, relevant, and sustainable solutions.

“For more than 20 years, BTC has served as a partner for tribal nations and Native communities. For Indigenous communities, the goal is self-determination and sovereignty—in culture, language, education. This project is one big step toward self-determination and sovereignty in research and knowledge generation,” says Dr. Joshua Sparrow, Executive Director of BTC.

To learn more about the IELC or this funded project, or to schedule an interview with Drs. Yazzie-Mintz or Sparrow, contact BTC’s Director of Resource Development, Michael Accardi.

Discover the Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative at the BTC National Forum

First Light Education Project Starting with What WorksTogether, First Light Education Project and the Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) lead the Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative (IELC), a new national initiative envisioned and designed in consultation with over 50 different tribal individuals, educators, and representatives from early childhood learning and care organizations and tribal departments of early childhood education. Launched in 2021, Native educators, early learning professionals, and leaders from four tribal/Native partner communities are learning how to generate local solutions to historical and current dilemmas of practice. Community-Based Inquiry (CBI) — a process by which Indigenous communities engage in asking and investigating their own questions about their early childhood practices — is the driver and focal point of this project. Come meet our Indigenous partner communities at BTC’s Virtual National Forum on March 29–31.

First Light Education Project and BTC have created a unique partnership to co-facilitate this work side by side with our early childhood partners. First Light Education Project, led by Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz (Diné), is a Native-run organization built on Indigenous principles and implementing Indigenous practices, with expertise and experience in early childhood education and building systems of care and learning. BTC is a long-time leader in early childhood learning and development, with a long history of working in and strengthening communities in the United States and around the world. We have created an equitable partnership to conceptualize and operationalize the IELC, bringing together expertise, experience, and community connections to jointly implement the IELC. Come meet Dr. Yazzie-Mintz at BTC’s Virtual National Forum on March 29–31.

Here’s what our first four community partners are saying:

“Great opportunity to create a research question around our community expectations of early childhood education.” – Wiikwedong ECE Collaborative Member, Planning & Visioning Meeting, January 2021

“We survived a genocide; we are coming out. We are still very connected to place. Again, the emotional toll [is there], and how we keep getting up every day and doing the work we do because we also understand what we are doing – the bigger picture – it’s a pathway to recovery for us – so we show up.” – Wicoie Nandagikendan Team Member, Reflective Inquiry Session, December 2021

“We’re calling to our community, calling them into us, we’re not calling them out, we are calling in. And we are calling to our young people our community and letting them know we are here.” – Daybreak Star Team Member, Reflective Inquiry Session, November 2021

“… in order for us to be effective at what we do, from the mindset that we want to approach it, it will come with the grounding of our Indigenous selves first.” – INPEACE / Keiki Steps Team Member, Reflective Inquiry Session, June 2021

Community-Based Inquiry

The unique approach that CBI takes to research and strengthening practices in communities — which originates with and is implemented and sustained by the communities themselves — means that communities are not dependent on either First Light Education Project or BTC to analyze their practices or take action. Instead, we co-design with their approaches and identify methods to answer their questions as, simultaneously, they implement their ideas in practice. Through cycles of inquiry and action, communities ask and answer their own questions, and implement their own solutions.

In CBI, community members are the researchers: they know the context and the questions that need to be studied, have access to relevant data and generate critical ideas on how to implement solutions in practice. In this model, external researchers —from universities, foundations, and organizations — support the work of community-based researchers by helping community members frame their own research questions, design methods that will lead to answers to their questions, and collect and analyze data.

Community-Based Inquiry as an Equitable Practice with Indigenous Early Educational Communities

The implementation of equitable practices is critical in working with communities, particularly Native communities, from which researchers have often taken knowledge for professional gain without valuing community members’ expertise and knowledge. Study findings by researchers building their careers on work in Native communities rarely make it back to the communities and often are of little value to communities making timely practice advances. For too long, Indigenous communities have been over-researched and underserved. In CBI, community members are the center and drivers of the work, as both practitioners and researchers.

The IELC enters and cultivates authentic partnerships with communities, with a balanced approach to who guides, who leads, who learns, and how inquiry happens. We move forward in this work together driven by a collective commitment to answering the community’s questions — not our own. The knowledge of the community partners — of content, context, history, community relationships, and practice — is foundational to this work and their futures. The community teams are composed of members from diverse experiences holding a range of roles in their community to ensure representation of various groups in the communities and opportunities to solve a range of practice dilemmas. The work is focused on learning and process, not conclusion. The knowledge that emerges serves community members immediately. The goal is strengthening practice, not publishing in journals. The community need not wait for peer-reviewed articles or for external researchers to share knowledge before implementing practice changes. Through modeling and practicing authentic, equitable partnerships and centering the work within the community, the IELC is implementing community-based inquiry as an equitable and sustainable practice in Indigenous early educational communities.

Learn more about the IELC from First Light Education Project’s Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Ed.D., Brazelton Touchpoints Center’s Joelfre Grant, and our Indigenous partner communities at BTC’s Virtual National Forum on March 29–31.

Register today

Hassan Daniel: Strengthening Fathers and Families through Faith, Fellowship, and Touchpoints

Hassan Daniel

“Touchpoints provides fathers a way into the hearts of our children that interfaces with our babies with intentionality.” — Hassan Daniel

For Hassan Daniel, Brazelton Touchpoints speaks directly to him, opening up the world of fatherhood by facilitating the unique connections that fathers can have with their children, from the very beginning of life. Hassan sees Touchpoints as an equalizer, bringing fathers into focus in a way that fully engages them and invites their strengths, wisdom, courage, and relationship into the child development process. “It doesn’t leave mom out, but it equally includes dads,” says Hassan, a father of two boys, aged 9 and 12, and a devoted husband of 16 years.

As it is for all mothers and fathers, parenting for Hassan is a journey and one that comes with no clear roadmap or instruction manual. Hassan’s experiences have led him to his life’s mission of optimizing affirmative parenting outcomes for fathers and helping them navigate through everyday life despite personal dilemmas.

Like many journeys, Hassan’s path was not entirely linear and involved many steppingstones along the way. Engaging families and working to strengthen communities is part of the fabric of his being, grounded in his faith in God and a desire for justice. As a teenager, Hassan became an ordained minister and by his mid-20s, he was an assistant pastor of a church, providing fellowship and support to families with adversities and struggles. Those formative experiences helped prepare him for his work at the Baby College, a hallmark of the Harlem Children’s Zone’s early childhood initiatives that educates and supports new and expectant parents and other caregivers through the ins and outs of early childhood development.

When he began at the Baby College in 2006, Hassan was a single man without children. Yet he coached expectant parents in the early development of their children and the power of their engagement in their children’s long-term health and success. Brazelton Touchpoints facilitated his work with expectant parents, with the Touchpoints Parent Assumptions an important guide — that “all parents are experts on their children, have strengths, want to do well by their child, have something critical to share at each developmental stage, have ambivalent feelings, and that parenting is a process built on trial and error.”

Later, as Director of the Baby College, Hassan led the integration of key aspects of Touchpoints and its Guiding Principles into the parent program’s multi-week curriculum. The Baby College has now graduated 7,000 parents and caregivers, supporting their knowledge, confidence, and skills since its launch in 2000.

Harnessing the transformative power of storytelling, Hassan authored Where is the Man of the House?, a book arising from his personal experience with fatherhood and his desire for restorative justice for people’s lives — people, he came to realize, who were just like him. Hassan is sought after as a speaker and frequent lecturer for his knowledge and experience, and this coming May will be a featured speaker at the Washington Interagency Fatherhood Council’s upcoming Fatherhood Summit.

Today, Hassan is the Founder and CEO of The Father Factory, a coaching service that addresses the intergenerational impact of childhood trauma, specifically sexual violence experienced by boys. The Father Factory integrates intentional parenting, biblical literacy, and counseling for fathers with a history of childhood sexual trauma to support their healing.  Through a 12-week course, called “The Father Factory Curriculum for Dad’s Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse,” Hassan provides fathers with a safe place to experience community and restoration. Hassan also reaches fathers through his podcast, “The Father Factory Voice Lessons,” which has featured leading thinkers and practitioners in the field, including BTC’s very own Joshua Sparrow, MD. Hassan’s ability to adopt and adapt the key tenets of Brazelton Touchpoints is both art and science, and he applies these in The Father Factory’s work — his way to finally share his story, and “give fathers back to their families and communities.”

Hassan’s work with BTC has continued and grown in recent years from the seeds cultivated along the way. In 2020, Hassan was featured in an episode of BTC’s Learning to Listen: Conversations for Change series, and recently he joined the BTC National Training Team, which trains providers across the country and the world in the Brazelton Touchpoints approach to family engagement. It’s also personal — in his house, he says, the “Touchpoints books are next to the Bible.” Both serve, he says, as unifying elements of Hassan’s parenting partnership with his wife, bringing them together to raise their children and support and guide their family even as their boys get older. For Hassan, Touchpoints is a way of life that encourages us to be present, to observe and listen to our children, and to work together toward common goals for our families.

Come meet Hassan at the BTC 2022 National Forum on March 29–31, where he will co-facilitate a workshop titled, “Supporting Father Involvement and Co-Parenting Across All Kinds of Differences.” 

 

Watch Hassan’s Learning to Listen Episode

Dr. Constance Helen “Connie” Keefer – the Compleat Pediatrician

By Kevin Nugent, PhD, Founder and Director of the Brazelton Institute

Brazelton Touchpoints Center faculty member Dr. Constance Keefer retired earlier this year after a half century of advocating for the health and well-being of young children and their families across the world. In this tribute, Dr. Kevin Nugent honors Connie’s passion, commitment, never-ending curiosity, and indomitable spirit. 

Dr. Connie Keefer with a young patient.

Dr. Constance Helen “Connie” Keefer has worked for 52 years in the field of pediatrics. She wanted to be a doctor from the age of four, impressed as she was by the power of the doctor who came to their house to heal and cure and bring solace to her and to her family. This sense of calling to help others was sustained by the moral values instilled in her by her parents so that after she graduated from Allegheny College, it was with a kind of inevitability that she went on to apply and was accepted at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School to study to become a doctor.

As a medical student, Connie was torn between a career in psychiatry and pediatrics.  Drawn initially to psychiatry, she made a decision to go to London to the Anna Freud Centre at the Hampstead Clinic to study psychoanalysis. Attending the weekly case study sessions led by Anna Freud, Connie was impressed by how Freud integrated direct observation with knowledge emerging from observations of the child in the consulting room. It was this emphasis on the importance of observation in understanding child development that led Connie back to the field of pediatrics. Returning to New York, she studied under pediatric neurologist Isabelle Rapin at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. This was a transformative experience and confirmed for Connie the importance of observing children’s behavior in pediatric practice as the key to understanding the relationship between neurology and child development.

After graduating from medical school in 1969, Connie went on to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland for an internship in pediatrics. She studied under two of the great pioneers in the field of pediatrics and neonatology, Marshall Klaus and John Kennell, whose research on mother-infant bonding was empowering mothers and was in turn changing the practice of newborn care across the world. This was another life-changing experience for Connie. as she was able to enter into the world of newborn babies and observed how these two giants in the field treated both babies and their families in the newborn nursery with such respect and compassion. This also gave her a new understanding of the parent-infant relationship and how that understanding could be integrated into her everyday care of newborns and their parents.

Encouraged by Klaus and Kennell to come to Boston to learn more about babies, Connie became Chief Resident at Massachusetts General Hospital from 1970–1972 and “almost accidentally, chanced upon Berry Brazelton” at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). Berry Brazelton had just founded the Child Development Unit and established a Fellowship program for pediatricians, designed to enable pediatricians to learn more about newborns and typical child development, something hitherto neglected in pediatric education. As she listened to Berry’s detailed descriptions of baby behavior, it must have resonated with the words written by her father, Fleming Orrin Keefer, in his observations of his own children, in one of his poems titled, “Sleeping Children”:

“Now is the time for reflection, standing in the darkened doorway,

Marvelling at the innocence of these inert forms,

Brushed with the patina of blessed childhood,

Damp-forheaded, partly lipped

Purity and serenity sculptured in living flesh.”

Connie knew immediately that this baby-centered, family-focused model of pediatric care was what she was searching for and she was accepted by Berry as one of the first Fellows at the Child Development Unit (CDU) in 1973. Berry’s teaching philosophy — inspired by Jerome Bruner at the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard University —focused on creating a space that allowed everyone to ask and answer questions while encouraging critical thought, a place that could be an “intellectual retreat.” In this setting, Connie was exposed to primary research, complemented by placement experiences interviewing pregnant mothers and observing newborn nurseries and community daycare centers, where she was able to refine her capacity of “empathic listening” and relationship building as a defining characteristic of her role as a pediatrician.

After her two-year fellowship at the CDU, she was invited by Berry to stay on as a faculty member. Her research on culture, parenting, child development, and newborn behavior was soon published in scholarly journals, and she contributed textbook chapters on development, cultural issues in behavior and development, on the shy child, and on the nursery care on the newborn. She went to Kenya to study the behavior of Gusii infants and this interest in cultural differences led her to China and many other countries where she taught pediatricians about newborn behavior and development and introduced the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale to physicians across the world. She was also an inspirational mentor and it was the good fortune of many students — I was one of them in the 1978 — to have been guided by her into the world of the newborn infant — an invitation that was to irrevocably shape the future of my professional life and the lives of many others over the years.

After this long intensive period in her career as a researcher, teacher, and faculty member, Connie decided to review and reevaluate her life choices and she made the momentous decision to take a “leave of absence” from the academic world to consider other possibilities. The most dramatic change was when she married Habib Tayarani, which led her on yearly visits to Iran to meet Habib’s family. During this time, she also returned to her great interest in music and literature, reading and writing, resumed playing the flute, and joined an ensemble. By now, Connie was ready to move into the world of community pediatric practice and for the next 11 years, she practiced pediatrics in Cambridge, working face-to-face with infants and families. So many parents, including my wife Una and I and our children Aoife and David, who had only just arrived in the United States, were fortunate to become her “patients” and were privileged to be listened to and enveloped in the caring, affirmative, and respectful care that characterized her approach, such that she is an integral part of our own family story and undoubtedly is embedded in the family stories of thousands of families to this day.

In the 1990s, Connie served as Director of the Newborn Nurseries at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and directed the Healthy Connections Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, a perinatal intervention program. She also became Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Knowing how Connie understood how residents and medical students needed to learn more about newborns and the care of newborns as part of their training, Dr. Judith Palfrey, Chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, invited Connie to develop a curriculum for pediatric residents. As part of the new curriculum, Connie developed the PEBE, an innovative examination for pediatric practitioners, which combines the usual “head to toe” sequence of the physical examination with the observations about the baby’s behavior that reflect developmental capacity and the baby’s individual style. In 2001, Connie mentored fellow pediatrician Lise Johnson as successor in the role of Director of Well Newborn Care at BWH, ensuring the continuation of the same infant-focused, family-centered approach begun by Connie, which served as a “best practice” example of continuity of care and exemplified the same kind of passionate relationship-based care in Newborn Units around the world.

At around the same time, Connie was invited by Berry Brazelton and Josh Sparrow to join the Brazelton Touchpoints Center at BCH as Senior Faculty. She brought her extensive experience in pediatric practice, clinical teaching, and cross-cultural research to her Touchpoints faculty role. She saw how the Touchpoints approach could inform pediatric residency training in developmental and behavioral pediatrics. Asa  teacher and mentor, Dr. Keefer’s lucid, engaging, insightful approach reached trainees across the world and confirmed the importance of relationship-building in their work with families by keeping the focus on the baby and on the relationship.

Connie has been as an integral part of the  Brazelton Institute since its inception. Along with Sue Minear, Lise Johnson, Yvette Blanchard and myself, Connie played a critical role in testing and developing the Newborn Behavioral Observations (NBO) system to become the evidence-based tool it has become today. The focus of the NBO is frankly on relationship-building and is now used in settings around the world to help parents understand and appreciate their newborn infant and, at the same time, is designed to help the pediatric practitioner develop a partnership with the parents around the baby’s behavior. Connie is an author on the NBO Handbook, Understanding Newborn Behavior and Early Relationships, and had a central role in developing the training curriculum and has been engaged in training, teaching, and mentoring right up to the present moment.

Throughout her career, Connie has been an evidence-based optimist, animated by a moral, even utopian, purpose. She imagines a more just and equitable society and believes that without better health care services for parents and infants from the very beginning, it is impossible for people to claim other fundamental human rights. If one might find a hidden emotional spine to all her work, it is that policies that support families are critical, as the strength and quality of the relationship between caregivers and their children are fundamental to the effective development of children’s brain functions and capacity. In terms of her academic leadership throughout the time, Connie has always been a public intellectual to her bones. In this, she is a champion of those who experience the brunt of inequality, poverty, and discrimination and is committed to supporting the development of policies, resources, and optimal environments for children. Moreover, she believes that preventive intervention in the first years will result in much higher economic returns later.

In his book, To Be a Doctor, Felix Marti-Ibanez, writes, “To be a doctor, then, means much more than to dispense pills or to patch up or repair torn flesh and shattered minds. To be a doctor is to be an intermediary between man and GOD.” I feel  exceptionally privileged to have been Connie Keefer’s colleague and friend for almost half a century. Indeed, my colleagues and I at the Brazelton Institute describe Connie as simultaneously wise, empathic, open-minded, honest, kind, non-judgmental, culturally humble, enthusiastic, optimistic, and validating. She inspires total confidence in parents, and daily renews the magical relationship that by itself constitutes good treatment for any kind of ailment and the best starting point for confronting all causes of pain and suffering. Although so many virtues are difficult to find in a single human being, such combinations can be found in Connie Keefer across her 52-year practice. Indeed, I can end this account of the career of Dr. Connie Keefer, our colleague and friend, by echoing the words of her poet father, Fleming Orrin Keefer, in one of his earlier poems:

“Our gratitude wells up in us,

No full heart e’er spoke neatly,

And though our tongues prove traitorous,

Our hearts pay tribute to thee.”

Dr. Connie Keefer — the compleat Pediatrician!

Ad multos annos!

Ann Linehan: Honoring a Lifetime of Service

photo of Ann Linehan and Dr. T. Berry Brazelton

Ann Linehan and Dr. T. Berry Brazelton

BTC’s Executive Director, Joshua Sparrow, MD, recently interviewed Ann Linehan, following her retirement as Deputy Director of the Office of Head Start. Here, he reflects on their conversation about Ann’s lifetime of service and the meaning of Brazelton Touchpoints in her work.

“Don’t overthink it. It will reveal itself,” Ann Linehan, Deputy Director of the Office of Head Start since 2011, told me in a recent conversation about her retirement—the next chapter in a life committed to children and families.

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Ann, watching her in action, leading the Office of Head Start. Head Start is a multibillion-dollar Federal program serving more than a million children and families living with poverty all over these United States, territories, and sovereign Tribal nations. In senior management positions for the past 25 years, Ann has helped chart its course through the shifting tides of Republican and Democratic administrations, always inspiring its workforce of thousands—to stretch and reach and search, and to hold on to hope.

I feel like I’ve known Ann forever. We both spent the first chapters of our working lives in Boston Strong, learning from strong, brave, beautiful children facing all kinds of challenges. And we both grew up in balkanized Boston, Ann in an Irish Catholic family in Brighton, and me in a soulless suburb where those who’d arrived a century or so sooner fled as the newly assimilating invaded. When she’s back home, the beautiful Boston accent comes back.

Ann knows her strength comes from her family background and history. Of the many tributes honoring her contributions to Head Start as she steps down, Ann jokes, “No one says I’m smart.” Instead, “they called me ‘frank, calm, and candid‘ and said that I ‘told the truth,‘ including the hard truths. Ann explained, “It’s the commoner in me, the blue collar background.” Her father, she once told me and Berry Brazelton, was “a cop”—her brave, strong, loving, and beloved father who died suddenly and much too young. Yet part of Ann’s strength comes from always reaching, stretching beyond, always searching.

Ann told me that she went to parochial school and that “my life had always been very parochial.” From the beginning of her working life, Ann was propelled by the tension between what she knew she didn’t yet know, what she couldn’t yet do, and her potential. Before each next step, there was a mentor who helped her see that potential before she herself could, and who pushed, nudged, cajoled, exhorted, and loved her into risking the next reach, the next stretch. This is what Ann has always tried to bring to the many fortunate learners whom she has mentored.

When she began her career in the 1970s, Ann’s first teachers were children—11 children, six children in wheelchairs, five children who were called “emotionally disturbed” back then. They taught her to watch and listen very carefully for the tiny increments of growth, and to find the joy in these “miniscule progressions.”

The challenges that progress bring were also Ann’s teachers. It was her job to implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act when it was still brand new. It was her job to help children with disabilities enter public schools where “no one had ever seen a child wearing a helmet” (e.g., to protect children with uncontrolled seizures from head injuries) or a “head pointer” (for children without spoken language or use of their upper arms who point to symbols on a board to express themselves). These children were guiding Ann to search, to reach for the truth and stretch—embracing and recognizing all children, and preparing her to encourage and mentor so many of us to do the same.

I think I first met Ann in Durango, Colorado, in May of 2001, at the Tribal Early Head Start Directors Retreat. Berry Brazelton and I had been invited there to introduce the Touchpoints Approach because of the quiet, respectful listening and observing that is its hallmark, and that was Berry’s way of learning about newborn babies. A few wise friends of ours and of our future colleagues in “Indian Country” thought that this way of being with would be of interest and service there. Our time at the retreat was, according to the elder who offered an opening blessing to bring in good spirits, a “meeting of the eagles”—and that is a very good and powerful thing.

That night, serendipity sat me down at dinner next to Ann. As with just about everyone Berry introduced me to in those days, I was star struck and intimidated. As I struggled to decide what to order, Ann—like Berry, always extra-terrestrially sensitive and generous—leaned over and laughed: “Honey, always order the salmon. It’s good for your skin.” I was immediately smitten. As Berry would have said, it was love at first sight—kindred spirits inspiring each other to hold onto hope, see the potential, and to act on the shared vision.

That is also what Berry Brazelton did for so many of us—as Ann says, “lifting people up to see the opportunities that they can’t yet see for themselves.” Berry and Ann adored each other. They were both rebels and renegades, and were not afraid to speak the truth.

Helen Taylor, the first African American Associate Commissioner of what was called in her day the “Head Start Bureau,” summoned Ann to Washington to begin her career there, and told her “I need you here!”

Ann is clear that Head Start also needed Berry Brazelton. It was his paradigm-shattering research on infancy and the first years of life, she said, that inspired Early Head Start. His brilliance was matched by the simplicity of his disarmingly clear and direct messages. He helped everyone who cared deeply about babies and children at the Office of Head Start but who worked as some distance from them to feel closer to them, and to feel more deeply how much their work mattered. He helped us all understand how important it is for every parent to know they matter, and that they can be the parent they want to be, regardless of what they’ve been through and where they started from. No one from a background like Berry’s had ever created such deep, trusting, and long-lasting relationships with Tribal leaders and families around the country, relationships that Berry respected and cherished as only he could.

I invited Ann to speak in Boston at the celebration of Berry Brazelton’s life—a month after his death, and a month before what would have been his 100th birthday. Ann came even though it was the Trump Administration’s new Office of Head Start Director’s first day at work. Ann wrote to tell her what she would be doing on her first day,  instead of welcoming her. The new Director, Dr. Deborah Bergeron, emailed back, “Oh my God, he’s been my hero my whole life. His books got me through raising my three children!” Berry was still connecting us, for children’s sake, even after his death. Ann read Dr. Bergeron’s email at the celebration.

As Ann steps now into this next Touchpoint of her life, she’s not over thinking it. Despite the overwhelming challenges of the last years of her Head Start tenure, she’s hopeful: “I wish we’d had the ‘Me Too’ movement when I came to government. We’ve now got women in a much better place, and men too. And we used to speak of a melting pot, but now we are truly becoming multicultural and people are spreading across both red and blue states. We have a long way to go, but diversity, equity, and inclusion are finally taking off.”

BTC to Host National Substance Use Disorder Summit

National Substance Use Disorder Summit 2022. Innovating Partnerships with Families in Recovery. January 25, 2022. 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time. 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time.The Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) is hosting its first National Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Summit: Innovating Partnerships with Families in Recovery, on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. The all-day virtual Summit will include three nationwide conversations on:

  • the power of peer-to-peer supports in ensuring equitable and inclusive recovery interventions that center family voice and power, facilitated by recovery coaches with lived experience of SUD and their parent and professional partners;
  • strengthening comprehensive systems approaches by assembling, connecting, and coordinating the broad array of sustainable supports, services, and resources for parents in recovery; and
  • transdisciplinary collaboration, distilling the key ingredients of effective approaches for building therapeutic relationships based on safety, trust, and hope that promote parents’ motivation for recovery, and resilient responses to the relapses and recurrences that characterize this chronic disease’s course.

Research has shown that the quality of the caregiving relationship is the single most important factor in a baby’s recovery from substance exposure and mitigation of potential long-term deleterious effects on development. Yet from the beginning of the nation’s opioid epidemic, policy, funding, and health care attention have been focused primarily on individuals, with emphasis on critically important medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Individuals in parenting roles, in the contexts of their families and communities, have received far less attention and support, even though the opioid epidemic now also contributes to racial disparities in maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. To the extent that the intergenerational effects of opioid use on fetuses and babies are addressed, resources largely target the much-needed medical treatment of hospitalized newborns with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).

BTC’s critical role in mitigating the intergenerational effects of the opioid epidemic to promote infant and parent recovery and healthy development adds five additional strategies to MAT for adults, and pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic treatment for newborns with abstinence or withdrawal syndromes:

  1. Surface stigma, subtle or overt, wherever it resides, and substitute safe, respectful, trust-building, and strengths-based parent-professional interactions
  2. Build parent skills for understanding newborn behaviors as communications, for responding to challenging substance-exposure-related newborn behaviors, and promote parental confidence and sense of competence, and parent-infant attachment
  3. Leverage the vulnerabilities and opportunities of new parenthood to mobilize parents — who often do not feel they deserve help but know their babies do — to accept and stay with treatment
  4. Provide anticipatory guidance and additional supports for families as the predictable Touchpoints of development approach, These are challenging times for all families, but all the more so for infants and young children with self-regulation difficulties related to in-utero substance exposure, and for parents with self-regulation difficulties related to the recovery process and to the traumatic pasts of the majority of mothers with SUD. Although a new baby can help parents discover new depths of motivation for their recovery, the first days and years of a child’s life predictably add more stress to those that precede and accompany SUD.
  5. Catalyze a shared vision and common, strengths-based language across sectors within communities. SUD is most often a chronic, recurrent disease that disrupts many aspects of a family’s functioning and resources — not just health and mental health, but also housing, employment, legal status, and more. Families with new babies living with SUD need treatment beyond MAT and for NOWS, longer-term treatment and comprehensive supports.

BTC’s involvement in the impact of substance use on infants and families dates back to the 1970s and the advent of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, used in nearly 1,000 research studies to date, including many assessing the effects of environmental toxins; anesthesia during labor; and medications, alcohol, tobacco, and illicit substances during pregnancy on newborn behavior. BTC’s work in this area has included a partnership with First 5 Santa Clara County, beginning in 2007, on a comprehensive, cross-sector county-wide U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funded initiative bringing together 28 agencies, all involved with families with infants born after in-utero methamphetamine exposure. As a result of Touchpoints training, Judge Katherine Lucero, changed the name of her Santa Clara court from Drug Court to Family Wellness Court. She participated with BTC leadership in an educational congressional briefing on this approach entitled, Babies, Parents and the Opioid Epidemic: We Know What to Do, in the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by Representatives DeLauro (D-CT) and Hunter (R-CA) in 2016.

BTC has adapted both the Touchpoints Approach and the Newborn Behavior Observation System (the NBO, a shorter, simpler, clinical version of the research-focused Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale) for families in recovery, and has been building capacity for their implementation through partnerships with clinics, hospitals, home visiting, and other programs serving families in recovery in California, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Washington, and West Virginia.

This SUD Summit will not be just another conference. Instead, it is part of a strategic set of activities to spread and scale infant/parent development expertise to every community in the United States affected by the opioid epidemic. In addition to parents, providers, and program leaders who have partnered with BTC on this work, the Summit will also feature state and federal policy makers and philanthropists as speakers and panelists, including representatives from HRSA, the Community Health Acceleration Partnership (a New Jersey funder), and the Perigee Foundation of Washington State. The Summit is designed and will be implemented to further spread this work to other agencies in each of these states, to other communities and states, and to create a national, cross-sector network and learning community who can, together, transform mindsets and systems of care for families in recovery.

Learn more and register for the Summit here

Meet Our New Director of Relational Equity and Belonging

Eurnestine Brown headshot

Dr. Eurnestine Brown

We are honored to officially welcome Dr. Eurnestine Brown as the first Director of Relational Equity and Belonging at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center and first Boston Children’s Hospital Division of Developmental Medicine (DDM) Director of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist, and her specialty areas include African American children and families, adolescent pregnancy and prenatal development, children and families in poverty, racial and gender inequities, parental socialization practices and early childhood social development, Early Head Start and Head Start, and resiliency.

Dr. Brown recently became a Doula, completed the Brazelton Newborn Behavioral Observations System (NBO) training, moderated BTC’s Parenting While Black—a 6-week, free webinar series for and by Black parents—and received an additional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Workplace certification. She hopes to expand her work with pregnant and expectant families and the Doula community to address racial and health inequities in families of color.

In this Q&A, she shares her vision for her new role, how BTC is moving forward and towards its vision of becoming an anti-racist and more equitable, inclusive and embracing organization, and a special passion she shares with her son.

How do you define relational equity and belonging?

To me, relational equity and belonging begin with reflection, expanded awareness, and a commitment to action for change. It starts with knowing your “Why” and your “What.” Why are you embracing the call to action towards equity, and what is the quality of the relationships you wish to engage in is as you embrace this call? You amplify your “What” and “Why” with your words and actions. Words matter; actions matter. Together, we aspire to apply our awareness and commitment to activate and sustain relational equity and belonging at multiple levels and within and across multiple systems and structures.

Relational equity and belonging include yet move beyond fairness, being welcomed, valued, and accountable. They also mean recognizing the historical, political, and social roots of today’s inequalities. We are not all starting from the same places; we do not have the same access, opportunities, and experiences that permit us to thrive. We must first ensure racial, social, economic, and political equity before we can all enjoy the fruits of equality.

What are your goals for your new position?

I see my role as ensuring that all of us have an authentic place at the table and that each voice is heard. That’s what motivates me. That’s the core of why I do this work. At BTC, we are all about relationships. We are trying to do the best that we can in the moment that we are in. Our goal is to always operate from an affirming place and not be afraid of having those courageous conversations. We learn something, and then we unlearn it, and then we learn something again. It’s critical to have a vision and to keep learning and engaging.

What are the courageous conversations we need to have?

We need to have courageous conversations about what it means to be equitable, what it means to create a real sense of belonging, what it meant to be authentic, and what it means to ensure that everyone has a place at the table from the beginning. And that beginning is really critical. It’s sort of like that analogy – if someone you thought is your friend is having a party, and they don’t invite you initially. And then you get an invitation, but you already know that other people were invited. Now you’re already thinking you are an afterthought. As another example, if you say to someone, “I don’t see your color; that’s not really who you are.” Well, it IS a central part of who we are, regardless of individual variations. I’m so happy that we’ve moved from “I don’t see color” because if you don’t see color, then you don’t see me. And I think that every person is not just about the melanin or the color of their skin, but also who they are, their culture, their family, their lived experiences, and I hope we get to a place where we can embrace that.

What is your vision for BTC and DDM as an organization committed to relational equity and belonging?

I lead our efforts to become an anti-racist and inclusive Center and Division that promote sustainable excellence by creating an organizational culture where equity, inclusion, and belonging thrive. We do this by acknowledging and bringing forth the many ways that racism — not race — has been woven into the fabric of our American society and global community to oppress, suppress, harm, and, in some instances, erase Black and Brown people and people of color. This is also where diversity, inclusiveness, and belonging come into play—front and center. Every day—actually every moment—as members of this community, we strive to accept and embrace all the ways (visible and invisible) that make us who we are—each individual who they are—including race, ethnicity, culture, language, age, educational attainment, socio-economic class and status, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, geographical location, family status, and more.

Together, we can engage in reflective practices that enhance equitable outcomes and reduce bias and prejudice in our partnerships with each other and the children, families, and communities we have the honor to serve. It is up to every individual at BTC and within the division, and globally, to be a beacon of change. I can present information, I can give readings, I can hold conversations, but each individual has to be that beacon of change and engage in action. Our journey is to become better, uplift and embrace all, and be authentic, resilient, and brilliant.

What does creating a culture of belonging mean to you?

The three most powerful words that we can say to each other after “I Love You” is “I See You.” And I think this is what this work is about. It’s about seeing everyone—their values and who they are. As an organization, and hopefully as a society, where we want to go on this journey is to say to each other, every infant, every child, every parent, every community: “I See You.” And that’s what creating a culture of belonging is all about.

What books are you reading at the moment?

I am currently reading an eclectic mixture of books on leadership and communication. They run the gamut of 5/6/7 principles of leadership (e.g., 6 C’s of Inclusive Leadership: Commitment, Courage, Cognizant of Bias, Curious, Cultural Intelligence, and Collaborative) to books on Servant leadership because my faith and family are my anchors. I am also learning more about Level 5 leadership (e.g., Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, and others). I am still reading, pondering, simmering; I am not advocating any for anyone, just my self-learning.

What books do you want to spend more time reading?

I love fantasy and Black science fiction. My favorite book is Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor. I want to read her latest book Akata Witch. I also want to read Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James and Amanda Gorman’s book of poetry. Lastly, I need books on how to live lavishly on the beach…

Tell us something about yourself that many people don’t know.

I am working on my DC and Marvel knowledge; my son, Jaxson, is the expert. I still have to stop and think about the universes for Thor, Loki, and Hela (Marvel), Green Arrow (DC), Black Panther (Marvel), Aqua Man (DC), Iron Man (Marvel), The Flash (DC) and Batman and Catwoman (DC). I am on Season 4 of the Arrow TV series, which is about the Green Arrow. This is one of our favorite family pastimes—my son watches with me and allows me to ask a limited number of questions.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Co-Authors Paper on Social-Emotional Learning in Early Childhood Programs

headshot of Dr. Christina Mondi-Rago

Dr. Christina Mondi-Rago

 

Dr. Christina Mondi-Rago, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center and a Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has co-authored a new paper published by the International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy.

Titled “Fostering social-emotional learning through early childhood intervention,” the paper reviews the academic literature on socio-emotional learning (SEL) in three different types of early interventions: (a) public preschool programs; (b) multi-component early education programs (i.e., Head Start, Child-Parent Center program); and (c) skills-based SEL interventions (i.e., Incredible Years, Kindness Curriculum).

Dr. Mondi-Rago and her co-authors found that all three types of interventions can benefit young children’s socio-emotional skills (i.e., social awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making), which are strongly associated with lifelong learning, well-being, and mental health. They also identified important gaps in knowledge and practice about how to best measure SEL in ways that are developmentally and culturally appropriate. The findings have implications for future research, early childhood practice, and policy—especially since the three types of interventions that were reviewed have varying levels of evidence about cost-effectiveness and potential to be implemented at large scales.

Read the article here.

New Comprehensive Mental Health Resources for the AAPI Community

The mass shootings in Atlanta last week are just the latest in a surge of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the United States over the past year. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, discrimination, verbal assaults, and physical violence against members of the AAPI community have skyrocketed, disproportionately harming vulnerable members of the community, including women, youth, and elders. This racism takes its toll.

At Brazelton Touchpoints Center, we stand with children and families in the AAPI community. We want to share a new set of resources curated by the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Cross-Cultural Student Emotional Wellness. Focused on the mental health and well-being of Asian Americans, the list includes high-quality, actionable, anti-racist resources for supporting mental health, tailored toward these individual audiences: parents, students, educators, therapists, and allies/the general public.

Executive Director Dr. Justin A. Chen, MD, MPH, and his team recognize that the profusion of resources can be overwhelming, so the focus of their mental health experts has been on carefully sifting through all the noise on the community’s behalf.

We hope you will find these resources helpful and meaningful as you work with children and families impacted by this violence. You can access them here: www.mghstudentwellness.org/racism 

The American Rescue Plan Will Help Lift Millions of Children Out of Poverty

Last week, Congress finalized, and President Biden signed into law, the American Rescue Plan to provide COVID relief to families. The bill includes changes to the tax code that will offer significant relief to families with children who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

The changes in the Child Tax Credit, in particular, are anticipated to help as many as half of the American children currently living in poverty by lifting their families above the poverty line. The maximum per-child tax credit a family can receive is increasing from $2,000 to $3,000 for each child age 6-17, and to $3,600 for each child from birth to age 5. In addition, the child tax credit is now fully refundable. Finally, half of the benefits will be distributed in monthly checks from July 2021 through December 2021, and the remaining portion will be refunded when tax returns are filed in 2022. This means families with the fewest economic means will receive a monthly payment to help sustain their families, with additional relief provided when they file their taxes.

Overall, more than 90% of all children in the US are projected to benefit from this child tax credit expansion, which could represent the single most significant step to reduce child poverty in the United States in recent history.

Brazelton Touchpoints Center is deeply appreciative of all those who have advocated for decades for changes to child tax policy that will benefit children living in poverty whose working parents do not earn enough to benefit from existing child tax credits. This immediate relief to American families will help lift millions of children out of poverty, offering them a chance at economic security, healthy nutrition, and housing stability, all of which are necessary for children to thrive and reach their full potential. Although the expanded tax credit is available for one year, advocates hope that evidence of its impact on children and families will lead Congress to make the credit permanent.

The legislation includes many other important provisions that will help families struggling through the pandemic, including COVID relief checks; housing benefits; assistance with health insurance; and expansion of unemployment, food, and child care benefits; to name just a few. You can learn more about what the American Rescue Plan means for children families at the Children’s Defense Fund website.