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BOARD MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Dr. Brenda Jones Harden

"And I am so pleased that now we build awareness around how the science of infancy can inform policy..."

Editor’s Note: We’ve invited ZERO TO THREE Board Member, Brenda Jones Harden, to share her perspectives and reflections with you. Dr. Jones Harden has been a member of the Board of Directors since 2012 and is currently serving her third and final term on the Board. You can learn more about her lifetime of professional focus on the developmental needs of young children at risk on her bio page on the ZERO TO THREE website.

What has it meant to you to a be a member of ZERO TO THREE’s Board of Directors?

ZERO TO THREE transformed my career. I was a ZTT Fellow when I was in my psychology doctoral program a few decades ago. I had been a social worker and was searching for a way to marry my experiences in child welfare and human services with what I was learning in graduate school about evidence-based practice, child development, and early intervention. And voilà–I learned from ZTT and all the mentoring I was fortunate to receive during and beyond my fellowship that I could focus my career on babies and their families. I had found my niche!

Thus, for me, being a board member is giving back to the organization that helped me to “come into myself” as a professional. During every board meeting and phone call, I remind myself of why I am doing this–to continue the legacy of those who created this organization and the infant–family field. Of course, that includes the legacy of my advisor, Ed Zigler, who was an early board member, but also so many other ZTT board members and staff who directly and indirectly mentored me in infant development, infant mental health, reflective supervision, preventive services, and early intervention. Therefore, my loyalty to the organization runs deep. I am deeply invested in ensuring that the organization continues to transform the field, from larger service delivery systems to individuals like the ZTT Fellows who want to contribute to improving the well-being of infants through their professional work. Being on the board allows me to do just that.

What is happening at ZERO TO THREE right now that you are most excited about?

There are so many things that I am proud of: the transformed fellowship program, HealthySteps, and DC:0–5TM. Generally, I am just amazed at how the organization has grown. I became involved with ZTT when it was a fledgling organization with a full-time staff of less than 5. If I had to identify a few of the initiatives that are most gratifying to me personally and professionally, they would be the Safe Babies Court Teams (SBCT), Strolling Thunder, and the technical assistance work with Head Start and home visiting.

As a former child welfare social worker, I resonate strongly with ZTT’s focus on the child welfare system. I can think of no better contribution than SBCT, which encourages the child welfare system to be infant-centered, moving beyond the one-size-fits-all approach that this system generally takes. SBCT is a comprehensive program that has the potential to affect all aspects of this service delivery system. Most important, it focuses on child well-being in the context of prevention services–promoting the development of infants as well as their birth families. Regarding Strolling Thunder, I am so excited about the impact the organization is having on the federal policy landscape. Strolling Thunder is putting babies on the policy map in such a clever and extensive way–the rally, the buttons, the media coverage, and now the data from the State of Babies Yearbook. And I am so pleased that now we build awareness around how the science of infancy can inform policy, AND we push for policy change (i.e., “THINK babies, and ACT!). I would be remiss if I did not mention the exceptional technical assistance that ZTT is providing to primary prevention programs, like Head Start and home visiting. From my vantage point, ZTT is the premier purveyor of knowledge to practitioners about infancy. I am delighted that both the early care and education and home visiting fields are benefiting from the troves of resources (e.g., documents, training curricula, professional expertise) that ZTT has about the development of young children and about best practices for intervention with young children and their families.

As you observe the world around you, what is an issue affecting young children and their families that concerns you? How do you think ZERO TO THREE can help?

There are many young children experiencing the ravages of poverty, being exposed to violence, whether random or chronic in their communities, and worse still violence and neglect in their families. That said, currently, I am most concerned about the separation of young children from their parents. When I was a young child welfare worker, I worked with many young children in the foster care system. Part of my job was to move children from home to home. I have vivid memories of the stark grief I saw in these children’s eyes, their inconsolable crying, and my powerlessness in the face of their pain. So, when I think about young children at the border, who have experienced the trauma of immigration and then have to contend with the trauma of the loss of their parents, I feel outraged and powerless simultaneously. ZTT has done more than other organizations I am affiliated with about this issue. They have shared the knowledge about the science of infant separation from parents and infant congregate care. I really appreciate the Policy Team’s 3-point suggestions for Being a Big Voice for the Little Kids at the border, including contacting our congressional representatives and signing on to the statements that members of our community have written. I hope we will be able to do more, from both a practice and a policy perspective, to support and advocate for the young children who are affected by this horrific trauma.

What is something that ZERO TO THREE members, staff, and even other Board Members might be surprised to know about you?

I love to dance. I am not referring to formal dance (I have never had professional training), but the exhilarating, excessively fun dancing that one does to Rhythm and Blues (R&B) music from the 1970s. I literally can stay on the dance floor, dancing nonstop for hours. Then the next day, I have excruciating pain in my back, knees, and feet, but the dancing always seems worth the pain.

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