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New Directors Named to Lead UW Center on Infant Mental Health and Development


For immediate release
Date:    July 30, 2007

The University of Washington School of Nursing and the Center on Human Development and Disability announced that professor Susan Spieker and professor Jean Kelly, both from the School of Nursing’s Department of Family and Child Nursing, have been appointed as the new directors of the Center on Infant Mental Health and Development (CIMHD). As director and co-director, respectively, they replace retiring founder Professor Emerita Kathryn Barnard.

“Though we conducted a national search for Dr. Barnard’s replacement, that search soon revealed that we already had two unusually talented people in our own school whose combined skills, knowledge and commitment would provide the best possible leadership for this center,” said School of Nursing Dean Nancy Woods.

In the six years since its founding, the Center on Infant Mental Health and Development at the University of Washington has become a national leader in increasing awareness about the importance of good social and emotional health during infancy. Research from its team of award-winning scientists is beginning to shape public policy initiatives in ways that could improve the lives of hundreds of infants and families in Washington.

Spieker currently directs the Center’s Birth to Three Research Lab in addition to leading a $2.3 million National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) project, “Promoting Infant Mental Health in Foster Care” and a $600,000 Administration on Children and Families project, “Incorporating an Attachment Q-Set into Parent-Child Relationship Assessment and Support in Early Head Start.”

Her research includes longitudinal studies on the relations between experiences during infancy and later behavior problems and social competence. It examines the early caregiving environments of children who have problems with self-regulation in preschool, or with aggressive behavior in elementary school. Although much of her research over the past 20 years has focused on high-risk populations such as adolescent mothers and parents who are abusive or have substance-abuse problems, she is quick to point out that “the first three years of life are important to all caregiver relationships.”

Kelly has also focused on young children’s social and emotional health for more than 20 years, directing her energies to both research and the creation of research-based training materials. She is the developer of “Promoting First Relationships” (PFR), an attachment theory-based early intervention program to promote young children’s mental health. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she recently completed a study of the effectiveness of “Promoting First Relationships” with homeless families in Washington. PFR is also currently being evaluated in two randomized trials funded by the National Institutes of Health, “Promoting Infant Mental Health in Foster Care” and “Early Detection and Intervention for Infants at Risk for Autism.” In the past, PFR has been used successfully to encourage more secure parent-child relationships with young children in child care, young children involved in Early Head Start, and young children with special needs. Kelly also directs NCAST-AVENUW, a self-sustaining program at the University of Washington that develops and disseminates research-based products and training programs relating to nurturing environments for young children.

Spieker and Kelly bring a long history of collaboration to their co-directorship, having been friends and colleagues since 1988. They are currently collaborating on both the Gates Foundation grant and the NIMH study.

CIMHD was founded in 2001 as a partnership between the School of Nursing and the Center on Human Development and Disability at the UW. Retiring Director Barnard will continue to be involved with organizations serving young children and families, including work with the Washington State First Steps program serving high-risk pregnant and parenting women. She is also serving on the new CIMHD Community Advisory Board.


The University of Washington School of Nursing is consistently the nation’s No. 1-ranked nursing school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ranked No. 3 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the UW School of Nursing is a national and international leader in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The school addresses society’s most pressing challenges in health care through innovative teaching, award winning research and community service.