The Heart to Heart project

Fostering Healthy Development Among Maltreated Preschool-Aged Children

The focus of the Heart to Heart project is to learn more about children's well-being and how mothers can best support their children. We are also interested in the biological rhythms of families. Prior research tells us that mothers play an important role in a child's development. We are testing a new program that tries to help mothers support their children by learning new ways to talk to them.

Research Overview

Child maltreatment is destructive to the psychological and biological development of children, significantly increasing their risk for mental health disorders throughout the lifespan. Thus, translational research which uses our knowledge of risk and protective factors, at multiple levels of analysis, to inform and evaluate evidence-based interventions for young maltreated children is sorely needed (Cicchetti & Valentino, 2006). The aims of this project are to evaluate (1) the efficacy of Reminiscing and Emotion Training (RET), a brief, dyadic intervention for maltreated preschool-aged children and their mothers, in fostering maltreated children’s development in cognitive, emotional, and physiological domains and in improving their mothers’ parenting; and (2) the specific mechanisms underlying intervention effects, including the role of child and maternal diurnal cortisol regulation. To accomplish these aims, the project will enroll 240 preschool-aged children and their mothers into a randomized clinical trial. Maltreating families will be randomized into one of two conditions: the RET condition or a Community Standard condition (CS), which serves as an active control. Additionally, a demographically matched group of non-maltreating families will be included to determine the extent to which families in the RET group approximate functioning of non-maltreated families over time. Families will participate in baseline, 8-week post, 6 month and 1-year follow-up assessments with a repeated measures battery of interviews, observations, and assessments of maternal and child behavioral and biological functioning. This multi-level, multi-measure approach will enable researchers to fully evaluate the efficacy of the RET intervention, and the mechanisms underlying intervention effects. Consequently, this project addresses significant societal concerns relevant to the psychological and biological health of maltreated children through the evaluation of an innovative brief intervention. The study has potential to significantly advance scientific knowledge and to inform more effective clinical and policy efforts designed to improve the welfare of maltreated children and families, including programs that may be readily disseminated to communities nationally.

Funded By

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

Age Group

  • Adults
  • Preschooler

Investigators

  • Kristin Valentino (PI)
  • E. Mark Cummings (Co-I)
  • Leah C. Hibel (Co-I)
  • Scott Maxwell (Co-I)
  • John Borkowski (Consultant)
  • Heidi Miller (Project Manager)
  • Starla Ross (Family Coach)
  • Rosemary Salinas (Family Coach)
  • Kathy Heyn (Data Manager)
  • Ruth Sobieralski (Child Maltreatment Coordinator)
  • Brigid Behrens (Graduate Student)
  • Kreila Cote (Graduate Student)
  • Kaitlin Fondren (Graduate Student)
  • Ruth Speidel (Graduate Student)

Partners

Research Impact

Because child maltreatment is a pathogenic relational experience that is destructive to the psychological and biological development of children, and significantly increases their risk for the emergence of mental health disorders throughout the lifespan, research evaluating the effectiveness of interventions for maltreated children and their parents is an important public health priority. As such, this project aims to evaluate the efficacy of Reminiscing and Emotion Training (RET) in fostering maltreated children’s healthy development in cognitive, emotional, and physiological domains and in improving their mothers’ parenting, and the specific mechanisms underlying intervention effects at multiple levels of analysis. By addressing these issues, the results of the proposed project possess significant implications for intervention science, public health, and social policies designed to improve the welfare of maltreated children and their families.