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Graduate Certificate in Infant Family Mental Health

About the Program

The fully online Infant-Family Mental Health (IFMH) graduate certificate program provides broad coverage of theoretical/conceptual and applied issues necessary for understanding infant-parent relationships and infant and toddler social and emotional development. The certificate is in “Infant-Family Mental Health” rather than in “Infant Mental Health” or “Infant-Parent Mental Health” because of its unique and guiding theoretical framework.

Infused throughout the program is McHale’s model of Coparenting in Diverse Family Systems. This model is used to frame, augment, and in some cases challenge, standard practice of engaging principally or solely with children’s mothers when addressing challenges affecting infant adjustment. A recurring focus throughout the IFMH certificate program is on coparenting and triangular family dynamics and on factors that threaten or support these relationships.

Course material addresses development of both infant-parent and family-level system dynamics, and fostering and strengthening collaboration and connections among systems that serve infants and toddlers. Prospective students will learn both from Drs. McHale and Allen, and from a distinguished array of local, national, and international experts who contribute their expertise concerning preventive interventions, assessment, monitoring, support, and treatment considerations with diverse family systems (see Guest Contributors sidebar). Students also gain exposure to tools used for coparenting and family assessments and for infant and child social-emotional and developmental screenings, and in screening for parent and child conditions necessitating referral for specialized assessment or treatment.

The program was inspired by a glaring community need — affirmed by leaders of community agencies and area programs serving infants, toddlers and families, reflecting the full spectrum of child and family strength and need — for a knowledgeable front-line professional workforce. The IFMH graduate certificate will render bachelor’s-holding professionals well-prepared to undertake entry-level positions in early childhood mental health, prenatal and health-related positions, and child protection and child welfare positions.

Program content is also expected to be of great interest and benefit to teachers of infant-toddler classrooms, to first responders, law enforcement investigators, prosecutors, and specialized child interviewers, to foster parents and guardians ad litem, and to those in a wide range of other fields that serve and/or advocate for families of infants and toddlers. In particular, the program is expected to be of special interest to three primary audiences:

  1. Students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, criminology, human development, early childhood education, nursing and other social science-related fields.
  2. Practitioners in allied health professions, education, social and behavioral sciences seeking to obtain specialized background knowledge for work with infants, toddlers and their families.
  3. More advanced research and field professionals interested in re-adjusting their lens in order to adopt a coparenting framework for their work on behalf of families of infants and toddlers

This is a 12-credit hour certificate including a 3-credit hour practicum or internship. Students already bringing experience in the field can substitute a program evaluation for the internship. The IFMH Certificate program’s four courses cover best practices, latest research, and strategies that can help children birth to three and their families – even those facing substantial challenges – make more successful adjustments during the child’s earliest years so that more young children might be ready to learn by preschool age. The following topics are a sampling of what will be covered in this program, representing a balance of theory, assessment and intervention:

  • Developmental Risk and Resilience
  • Prenatal and Early Brain Development
  • Typical Infant Development Birth to Age 3
  • Attachment Theory and Research
  • Diagnostic Classification System for Birth to Three
  • Effects of Trauma on Infants and Young Children
  • Dyadic Infant-Parent Psychotherapy
  • Examining Personal Beliefs and Managing Personal Biases about Difference and Culture
  • Understanding Infant-Toddler Programs and Early Childhood Consultation
  • Family Systems Thinking and Interventions with Diverse Families
  • Effective Teaming and Work within Systems of Care

The ultimate aim of the IFMH certificate program is to assure that all of its graduates leave with an advanced understanding of infant-parent mental health concepts and of skills relevant to their scope of practice for engaging and supporting infants and toddlers from diverse family systems. In turn, a more knowledgeable workforce will help to assure an increasing number of children’s life chances, as children whose families are supported by well-schooled professionals will stand more ready for school thanks to children’s enhanced social and emotional development.

We believe it is the most important undertaking for our community, state, and society – bar none – and expect the fruits of learning promised by this program to have a long-term and profound impact on infants, families and professionals throughout the county, state, country and in nations abroad.