Early Child-Caregiver Attachment and Programs and Policies to Support Early Parenting and Child Development

  • Lisa Berlin

    Alison L. Richman Professor of Children and Families

    Lisa Berlin
This program is something I wish every parent leaving the hospital would get

“If you don’t think infants have stress or mental health concerns, they do,” says University of Maryland School of Social Work Professor Lisa Berlin, PhD. Berlin’s extensive research focuses on early child-caregiver attachment and programs and policies to support early parenting and child development. “Basically, I am interested in babies,” says the often-published scholar on issues that explore “supporting infants' earliest relationships with principal caregivers, whoever they may be, to prevent developmental problems.” Issues Berlin studies include physical and mental health problems, health disparities, and infant caregiver attachments in marginalized communities.

Currently, Dr. Berlin directs Compañeros en la Salud de los Niños/Partners in Children's Health (CSN) in collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Centro SOL (Salud/Health and Opportunity for Latinos). Funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, the CSN study is a 5-year randomized trial testing the effects of an attachment-based parenting program on toddlers’ emerging health outcomes in low-income Latino families in Baltimore. Previous studies of the program suggest it has “a lot of positive effects on more emotionally supportive parenting behaviors and on toddlers' behavior and stress regulation,” explains Berlin.

Known as ABC, Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch Up consists of 10 home visits provided by a trained parent coach. According to Berlin, this program "is something I wish every parent leaving the hospital would get.” Developed at the University of Delaware and widely disseminated since, Berlin and her colleagues were among the first to test ABC with Latina mothers and their babies. ABC promotes caregivers’ nurturance in response to infant distress. It also helps provide caregiver support for the exploration, what Berlin calls “the business of being a baby,” and for avoiding potentially frightening behavior towards the infant.

Dr. Berlin has been conducting attachment and intervention research for over 25 years across multiple disciplines including human development, psychology, social work, and public health. A major thrust of Dr. Berlin’s research agenda concerns the extent to which attachment-based programs can add value to publicly funded services designed to support early parenting and child development.

In addition to her research and teaching, Dr. Berlin is the editor of the Society for Research in Child Development Social Policy Report, a journal dedicated to leveraging child and family research to support evidence-based policy development.

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