Centre on the Developing Child

Meeting with the CoDC had been on my agenda from the early days of planning for my fellowship. Though I eventually focused most of my interests on adoption-specific activities, I was still keen to meet with them to learn more about their projects supporting child development and better understand how scientific academia can be a part of improved adoption programming.

The Center on the Developing Child’s diverse activities align around building an R&D (research and development) platform for science-based innovation, and transforming the policy and practice landscape that supports and even demands change. We do this because society pays a huge price when children do not reach their potential, because half a century of policies and programs have not produced breakthrough outcomes, and because dramatic advances in science are ready to be used to achieve a promising future for every child.

Melissa Rivard is a project manager for the Centre's Frontiers of Innovation programme. FOI uses science to provide effective application to policy and practice, intervention strategies that allow for design, testing and refinement of interventions and a learning community to share innovation.

FIND - Filming Interactions to Nurture Development

FIND is a video coaching programme for parents and caregivers of high-risk children. It uses video to reinforce naturally occurring, developmentally supportive interactions between caregivers and young children. There is a 'serve and return' concept at the centre of this process; serve is when a child initiates an interaction, which is returned when a caregiver notices and responds.

Whilst more information can be found here, it is interesting to draw out FIND's five elements as key aspects of good quality developmental support;

  • Sharing the focus of the child
  • Support and encouragement
  • Naming (identifying an action of a child)
  • Back and forth interaction
  • Endings and beginnings

Overall, the programme helps to improve competence in caregivers. Children report improvements in developmental status, attachment and school achievement. Decreases in internalising symptoms and reductions in adverse childhood experiences are also anticipated - though research and scaled-up programming will confirm or challenge this.

This particular intervention clearly breaks down some of the key developmental milestones for children that are missed when family bonds break down. It is crucial, therefore - from a developmental perspective - that the priority should be to reconnect unstabilised children with the interactions listed above. This might be achieved through faster adoption, but not necessarily.

I asked Melissa about gender. Interestingly, the FIND programme has been adapted for fathers, based on low attendance. FIND-F (FIND Fathers) responds to males having reduced availability to complete the training (6 weeks compared to 10 for women) and a preference for selecting the gender of their coach. Making these changes has allowed them to engage with men through FIND more appropriately, building confidence in these males to participate in child support services

A key learning point for FIND has been the technical aspects of video coaching. Advances in technology make these systems more accessible, though there have been challenges in ensuring approaches are cost-effective, easy to use and secure. As such, the team have built in a process of identifying, purchasing and testing equipment (including new technologies) as part of the planning phase for each new implementation. Something to note for tech-adverse people and projects.

For reference:

  • Technology & Education Centre (robotic babies!) - http://realityworks.com/ - Melissa knew of this programme, which takes technology very literally in bringing to life key sex and parental education curricula through the use of robotic babies!