Remembering Heidi Als, PhD

Heidi Als headshot

Dr. Heidi Als

By Joshua Sparrow, MD

Heidi Als, PhD, one of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s first protégés, passed away on Thursday, August 18. Like Berry, she was a brilliant observer, extraordinarily sensitive, and always looked for strengths where others saw deficits and hope where others saw despair. After studying newborn behavior with Berry and mastering his Newborn Behavioral Assessment Scale in the 1970s, she adapted it, with his support, for infants born prematurely, which led to the Assessment of Premature Infant Behavior (APIB), and later to her international program, the NIDCAP, to transform neonatal intensive unit care around the world.

Berry and Heidi and I would often have lunch together, and she was as generous as Berry with her wisdom, ideas, and passion, and they remained deeply devoted to each other throughout their lives. I am so grateful for all she has taught me and so many. (She wrote about her work in Nurturing Children and Families: Building on the Legacy of T. Berry Brazelton.)

The day before she died, I saw an old family friend for the first time in years. His twins were born just a few days into viability, and he still vividly remembers the highly technically competent and emotionally attuned care of the neonatologist and NICU staff — trained by Heidi, of course, and carrying on her work, in Brest, France. I saw the now 8-year-old twins that day too — and they’re magnificent.

Like Berry, Heidi changed the world, and babies and families — and those who care for them — around the world will always be grateful and remember.

Read a remembrance of Heidi and share your own on the Newborn Behavior International website.

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: 

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.

New Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative Will Elevate Culturally Relevant Research Grounded in Native Communities

headshot of Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz

Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz

The Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC), located at Boston Children’s Hospital, is partnering with First Light Education Project, a Native-owned consulting initiative, to lead a national Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative (IELC) that will facilitate locally driven, community-based inquiry that is led by Native communities in order to advance high-quality early care and learning opportunities for Native children and families.

The IELC will use a process of research/inquiry that is driven by parents, teachers, centers, and community, prioritizing Indigenous knowledge and frameworks. The Collaborative will

  • address systemic barriers that currently impede Native/Indigenous communities from designing high-quality, culture- and language-rich, early childhood development programming for Native children, families, and communities;
  •  rely on Indigenous research and knowledge generation as a foundational component toward achieving racial equity in early learning and care systems; and
  •  lead to stronger early learning interventions and opportunities for Native children and families by advancing family and community engagement in designing culturally-grounded early childhood development systems, interventions, and knowledge.

“Native communities have the ability to identify areas of strength, need, and challenge in their systems of early care and learning,” said Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and Founder and Principal Consultant at First Light Education Project, who will lead the project. “However, Native communities often don’t have the resources or knowledge about inquiry and research to study the issues, analyze evidence, and create their own long-term sustainable solutions. The Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative will solve this gap in knowledge and resources by providing training and support in community-centered, place-based inquiry to urban, suburban, and rural Native communities seeking to achieve equitable and vibrant communities.”

The project is funded by a two-year, $1.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich.

When local communities define and investigate their own questions related to their community strengths and needs, they develop culturally appropriate solutions that are more likely to be sustainable. The Collaborative will strengthen capacity in Native communities to

  1. define their own questions;
  2. conduct their own community-centered, place-based inquiry and research;
  3. design and implement their own evidence-based solutions to create more sustainably equitable and healthy communities;
  4. sustain this work beyond the initial training and work;
  5. develop the tools to engage larger efforts; and
  6. leverage success to access financial and material resources.

“Research impacting Native communities comes predominantly from outside of Native communities. This pattern feeds the perception that Native communities do not have research expertise and cannot find answers to their own problems, leading to the creation of research that is built on other people’s questions,” Dr. Yazzie-Mintz said. “The Collaborative aims to reverse the traditional process of outsiders doing research on Native communities by moving the origins and center of inquiry into Native communities. Native communities will be trained to be early learning research experts, defining the inquiry questions and issues, planning and conducting inquiry, and turning inquiry into action within their communities.”

The Collaborative will initially work with four Indigenous-led partners who are being trained in community-based inquiry techniques and in the Brazelton Touchpoints approach to strengths-based family engagement. The Touchpoints Approach has proven uniquely effective in bringing together diverse Native communities to find common ground and a shared set of principles for working with children and families, and strengthening the systems that serve them. Following training, each partner will identify and implement an inquiry related to their vision of high-quality, culturally-grounded systems of care and learning for their community. Partner selection prioritized communities that typically do not benefit from major Federal early childhood funding. In the future, the IELC plans to expand and disseminate its learning to more Native sites and communities.

The Collaborative builds on the collective strengths of BTC and First Light Education Project, drawing on both organizations’ expertise and shared commitment to Native early childhood development and education. For 20 years, BTC has been creating opportunities for learning and growth with Indigenous and Native communities through collaborative, strengths-based, culturally-affirming approaches and long-standing and trusting partnerships with Tribal and Native early learning centers, health care agencies, and Tribal Colleges and Universities.

In leading the IELC at BTC, Dr. Yazzie-Mintz brings more than 25 years of experience working within the field of Native education, teacher education, and community-based research to her role as Project Director. Yazzie-Mintz has worked with more than 30 Tribal communities, successfully contributing to direct training, community-based inquiry, and programming at local, Tribal, state, regional, and national levels. She earned a doctorate in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and serves on national committees and foundation boards, contributing to the broad knowledge of local to national systems impacting Native early childhood development and education.

About the Brazelton Touchpoints Center
The Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) was founded in 1996 by world-renowned pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, MD, and colleagues and is based in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. Together with families, providers, and communities, BTC develops and applies knowledge of early childhood development to practice and policy through professional and leadership development, organizational learning and change, research and evaluation, advocacy and awareness, and serving as a resource for proven practices. BTC is home to the Touchpoints Approach, the Brazelton Institute (Newborn Behavioral Observations and Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale), Family Connections, and the BTC Research and Evaluation team. For more information, visit

About the First Light Education Project, LLC
Guided by the principle, “Starting with What Works,” First Light Education Project, LLC, is a consulting and collaborative initiative providing leadership on projects of practice and inquiry in community and educational contexts. The company’s two founders and principals, Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz (Diné) and Dr. Ethan Yazzie-Mintz, bring extensive expertise and experience working with and within communities, Tribal nations and Indigenous communities, K–12 schools, non-profit organizations and foundations, and higher education institutions across a variety of social, political, and educational domains. Conceptually grounded in the idea that education is a fountain of enormous possibility and immense potential from prenatal development and continuing through adulthood, First Light Education Project uses a strengths-based and question-driven approach to create relationships, processes, and knowledge that lead to collective, transformative outcomes. For more information, visit

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special attention is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit

BTC’s Mindy May Honored for Her Innovative Contributions to Professional Development

headshot of Mindy May

Mindy May, MS

We are thrilled to announce that Mindy May, Brazelton Touchpoint Center’s Director of Partnership and Professional Development, has been awarded the 2020 Allen C. Crocker Award for Clinical Excellence and Advocacy in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH).

Like BTC founder Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Crocker was a pioneer in the field of developmental behavioral pediatrics. He was a fierce advocate for children with disabilities, particularly those with Down syndrome. The Crocker Award is given each year to a BCH faculty or staff member who has made exemplary contributions in the areas of policy, advocacy, clinical care, and/or program development.

Mindy was nominated for the award by Dr. Dewana Thompson, BTC’s Program Manager for Professional and Resource Development. In her presentation of the award, Dewana read the following remarks:

“This award screams Mindy May! Mindy has worked tirelessly at the Brazelton Touchpoint Center and has demonstrated over the years her ability to develop new programs and to think outside the box regarding our trainings and program development that impact children and families. She instinctively knows what the field needs and how to think broadly about how to deliver it. These qualities are true of Mindy on the best of days and now I have seen that they are also true on the worst of days.

On March 9th, when the world shut down due to Covid-19 and our trainings and in-person professional development opportunities stopped, there was great uncertainty, ambivalence, and a lot of fear. And then on May 25th when our world stopped again after witnessing the murder of George Floyd, there was even more uncertainty, ambivalence, and lot of fear and anger. During this time when we couldn’t breathe, Mindy brought the team along, encouraged each of us, cried with us, held our concerns and fears and even our anger. She was willing to have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations about race. She was one of the first of my friends to call me and ask me if I was okay, knowing I’m raising two brown boys in this world. Mindy is always holding others. At the same time, she was able to help us all to shift to a place of seeing the opportunities in the midst of these very dark times. She is the most optimistic person I know, always seeing the glass as half full. During these times, she started seeing the glass as half empty, but she was always able to see the glass as refillable. That’s hope.

She helped everyone pivot and think broadly about the needs of the communities we serve related to Covid. She brainstormed ideas, led discussions, and most of all listened.

Out of these dark times came some of the most creative work. I am sure that I will miss many of the offerings that Mindy has helped lead, but I would like to name a few:

  • She helped us shift our 3-day face-to-face Touchpoints trainings to online formats that include both asynchronous (at you own pace) and synchronous (live interactive) sessions as well as video recordings
  • She helped bring over the finish line our First 5 California Online Professional Development Project for California’s 200,000 child care providers
  • She helped develop our Virtual Service Delivery and Strengths-Based Family Engagement webinar series that are now offered in both English and Spanish and reaching thousands of providers in the field
  • She is helping to shift our in-person training on child behaviors that adults find challenging to an online format that now, given racial disparities in pre-school suspension and expulsion, includes a module specifically dedicated to culture and race
  • She is supporting the shift of many of our offerings to include cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity components along with the impact of implicit bias and inequities based on race
  • She is helping us to expand our National Training Team to include more diverse trainers and members

One good indicator of the success of our programs is attendance. We repeatedly have upwards of two to three thousand attendees on many of our webinars, which I think is a testament to the quality, but also to the leaders behind the work.

There is one last thing that I want to mention that makes Mindy stand out and apart from many others, and that is Mindy’s natural ability to lead. Mindy is the type of leader who isn’t afraid to bring people to the table to inform the work. If she doesn’t know something, she is the first to say so and then bring people into the conversation who do. She thinks about systems in a way that helps to grow our program from the roots all the way to the petals. And lastly she has a heart for the populations we serve and constantly brings their voices into the room. She thinks about how our work will impact children and families, which is what Dr. Crocker did.

Perhaps the most admirable quality about her leadership is that she is often the mastermind for many of our amazing programs and ideas or helps to implement the ideas when she has listened to the need. But she is always the first to celebrate her team who does the execution and to turn the spotlight away from herself and shine it on them. This award gives us the perfect opportunity to turn the spotlight back on Mindy and let her contributions shine.

One of our guiding Touchpoints Principles is ‘Value disorganization and vulnerability as an opportunity.’ Mindy has done this time and time again and demonstrated her ability to turn disorganization into many wonderfully innovative programing opportunities. For all of these reasons (and so many more), and all of your work on behalf of children and families, I am thrilled to present her with the Crocker Award.”

Supporting Young Children, Families, and the Early Childhood Workforce during COVID-19

Jayne Singer head shot

Jayne Singer, PhD, IECMH-E®

The Brazelton Touchpoints Center recently collaborated with Boston Children’s Hospital and the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care on a webinar that explored early childhood development, mental health, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children, families, and the early care and education workforce. 

Jayne Singer, PhD, IECMH-E®—BTC’s Director of Developmental and Relational Health and a clinical psychologist in the hospital’s Division of Developmental Medicin—was a featured speaker. Other speakers included:

  • Sandra Fenwick, Chief Executive Officer, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care
  • Faye Holder-Niles, MD, MPH, Pediatrician, Children’s Hospital Primary Care Center; Medical Director of Community Primary Care, Office of Community Health
  • Francia Dejesus, Director of the Family Child Care Network, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation
  • Anat Weisenfreund, MS, Director of Head Start & Early Learning Programs, Community Action Pioneer Valley

View the webinar recording: COVID-19: Supporting Young Children, Families, and the EEC Workforce

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