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$306,000 Gift Expands Infant Mental Health Services

May 26, 2021

An infant lets out a piercing wail. What the parent decides to do next indicates how the child will grow up to interact with the world.

A healthy attachment between parents and children during the child’s first year of life is proven to be one of the best predictors of lifelong mental health and resilience. It’s a critical early childhood goal that Denver Health is championing, thanks in part to a generous $306,309 grant from the Caring for Denver Foundation.

The formula is simple: a secure attachment happens when caregivers are consistently available and responsive to an infant’s needs. Whenever a parent promptly picks up a crying baby to provide comfort and reassurance, they’re establishing trust with their child. This attachment in infancy leads to positive communication skills, constructive conflict resolution, and positive peer relationships in adolescence.

Despite its seeming simplicity, this level of attentiveness is an overwhelming challenge for many parents, especially those living in vulnerable situations. Research shows that 50 percent of infants do not have a secure attachment to their caregivers, which leads to an increased risk for poor mental health outcomes and substance use disorders later in life. For parents, barriers to attachment can include stressful events or lack of skills and knowledge, making it difficult for them to be available and responsive to their children. Other challenges could include a parent’s poor physical and/or mental health; parental substance misuse; infant medical complications; and stress related to food insecurity, housing insecurity, poverty, racism, and other social problems.

Even more challenging is the evidence demonstrating that the lack of parent-infant attachment is highly likely to be passed from generation to generation, meaning adults with a history of insecure attachment are more likely to have children who also have an insecure attachment.

To break this cycle and encourage parent-infant attachment for all families, Denver Health has incorporated mental health services into its baby and child wellness programs. Caring for Denver’s grant will further this work by providing funds to hire a child psychologist who is specially trained in promoting secure parent-infant attachment. The grant will fund the child psychologist position for two years.

“We are grateful to partner with Denver Health in this meaningful work to support infants, caregivers, and their families,” said Lorez Meinhold, Executive Director of the Caring for Denver Foundation.

This project will offer every child at Denver Health – approximately one-third of all Denver children – a strong mental health start by empowering parents with the knowledge and resources necessary to be able to properly provide comfort, safety, and security for their child.

“This grant will help Denver Health promote secure attachment between caregivers and their young children, which is consistently the best predictor of lifelong mental health and wellbeing,” said Dr. Christian Thurstone, Director of Behavioral Health. “In this way, we help everyone get off to a great start.”

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