Infant Mental Health

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What is Infant Mental Health? 
Infant Mental Health (IMH) is a multi-disciplinary field focused on the social-emotional capacities and the primary relationships in children birth through age five. Relationships in the earliest years of a child's life provide the basis for their development and mental health, which research suggests is important for current well-being, later functioning in school, and in relationships with others. A child's earliest caregivers provide an understanding of their culture, race, ethnicity, and social identities, which in turn helps the child to develop a sense of themselves and the world around them. In addition, IMH professionals across disciplines recognize the importance of consistent and nurturing relationships with caregivers, which are influenced by the caregiver's own relational history, mental health, and life circumstances. A reflective, relational framework guides the IMH perspective. That is, IMH professionals consider all important relationships: the caregiver-child; the professional-caregiver; and the professional-supervisor.

Careers in Infant Mental Health
IMH professionals work directly with and on behalf of young children, families, and caregivers, IMH direct service providers (home visitors, therapists, mental health consultants) identify and provide interventions to support families and caregivers with young children who are experiencing developmental and relational challenges due to exposure to a myriad of risk factors, such as poverty, oppression, and inequities. IMH professionals who work on behalf of young children (policy makers, community organizers) engage in community building, policy development, and leadership to advocate for these services and policies that address the current needs of diverse young children and caregivers. IMH researchers often study the role that early relationships play in a child's neurological, emotional and social development and the effectiveness of attachment-based interventions. 

Merrill-Palmer A Century of Community Making
Since 1988 the IMH Program at MPSI has been the epicenter of IMH graduate level education, research, and training. Faculty engage in community-university collaborations that have resulted in the development of student evaluation reflective tools, training curricula for early childhood educators, programmatic support of trauma-informed community-based training, the promotion of fatherhood initiatives within the Detroit community, the development of online and in-person professional development training modules, and clinical publications focused on IMH intervention.

In addition, IMH program education, research, and training is centered in the heart of Detroit, an urban area with a vibrant, diverse population. Within this thriving context families are also exposed to poverty and health disparities, as well as systemic racism and economic inequalities. Our strong connection to the urban community has highlighted the critical need for IMH practitioners, supervisors, and educators to work from a diversity-informed lens. Therefore, the interweaving of issues related to diversity, inclusion, and racial equity is a primary goal of all aspects of our program.

The Infant Mental Health Program at the Merrill-Palmer Skillman Institute includes:

A Dual-Title Degree Program in Infant Mental Health (IMH-DT)
We offer this program for graduate students at Wayne State University in collaboration with the School of Social Work, the Department of Psychology, and the College of Nursing. All students who add the IMH-DT to their studies will specialize their graduate education in IMH by taking IMH coursework. In addition, doctoral students will focus their dissertation research and qualifying exams on IMH, and masters students will complete IMH focused internships. Students whose programs have not adopted the IMH-DT, graduate students at other universities, and professionals who have earned a bachelor's degree can also benefit from IMH-DT courses and faculty research through work in research labs, utilizing elective credits, and enrolling as a guest student.
MPSI Infant Mental Health Dual Title Program Video
IMH-DT Application

Professional Development and Community Engagement
Our faculty and staff prioritize community engagement and outreach because a strong connection to the community will promote the implementation and dissemination of education, research, and training that is meaningful and pays attention to the diverse needs of our urban environment. IMH program faculty and staff enjoy provide professional development for community agencies, sit on advisory boards, work with agencies to develop and deliver high quality trainings for staff, and conduct program evaluations.

Infant Mental Health Research
Our Infant Mental Health faculty are engaged in research that can inform practice and policy aimed to understand and improve the reality of families and caregivers struggling with contextual stressors such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, exposure to poverty, violence, systemic injustice, and social inequities. All our faculty mentor undergraduate and graduate students from across campus in their research labs.