Experiences from conception to age six have the most important influence of any time in the life

Goals & Methods

Goals and Objectives of the CHILD Studies Program

My CHILD Studies research program, funded initially by the Canada Research Chair in Healthy Child Development, then by the Palix Foundation, and now by my ACHF Chair in Parent-Infant Mental Health, focuses on studying parent-child relationships, child mental health, neurodevelopment and other child health outcomes affected by “toxic stressors” such as maternal depression, family violence, and substance abuse. I also develop and test interventions to overcome toxic stressors affecting children’s health outcomes. Because parental mental health and child mental health, particularly in infancy and early childhood, are so closely tied, I often study these concepts in combination. Thus, my research focuses on studying toxic stressors, in the parenting context, to children’s mental health, neurodevelopment and other health outcomes. 

The goal of the program will be achieved by four objectives:

  1. To understand environmental predictors of children’s neurodevelopment, mental health and other health outcomes with a focus on parental perinatal distress (primarily depression, anxiety and biological substrates linked to stress such as cortisol)
  2. To understand underlying mechanisms, mediators and moderators (e.g. epigenetic patterns, genetic plasticity, child sex, early parent-child relationship qualities including sensitivity and responsiveness, maternal-child attachment security) for association between exposure to perinatal distress and children’s neurodevelopment, mental health and other health outcomes;  
  3. To develop and test interventions to support vulnerable children’s neurodevelopment and mental health in families affected by toxic stress; and
  4. To translate research findings in multiple traditional and novel ways to achieve the largest audience and uptake possible.