Professional Resource

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BOARD MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Catherine Monk

"I am very proud to part of an organization that puts babies first, giving voice to the needs and best interests of those who do not yet vote..."

Catherine Monk, Professor, Medical Psychology, Columbia University, ZERO TO THREE Board Member

Editors Note: We’ve invited ZERO TO THREE Board Member, Catherine Monk, PhD, to share her perspectives and reflections with you. You can learn more about her work on maternal mental health and stress and current research on her bio page on the ZERO TO THREE website.

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

It has meant a great deal to be a member of ZERO TO THREE’s Board of Directors as I am very proud of this organization and have admired it since graduate school, and those days are a long time ago! I am very proud to part of an organization that puts babies first, giving voice to the needs and best interests of those who do not yet vote, and frankly, of more relevance in our political climate, cannot vote with their pocketbooks. Because there is ‘no such thing as a baby alone” (famous words from the pediatrician DW Winnicott), ZERO TO THREE also puts families first, supporting parents and children’s other caregivers so that they have the resources and knowledge they need to promote healthy development. In my work as a clinical psychologist, almost uniformly the early years shaping future lives is a theme. There is such an opportunity to get families off to the right start from the beginning with access to: affordable childcare, mental health services (including for infants and children), paid family leave, and well-qualified and supported child care providers. That babies and families are not one of the #1 priorities in our political-social system does baffle me, for some policy makers a profound disconnect from scientific evidence and likely personal experiences in seeing children thrive or fail based on the quality of their environments. I am so proud of the State of Babies Yearbook in documenting the range of children’s environments, as this exhaustive work will help persuade those who need persuading that each child has a potential that is fostered or thwarted based on their context.

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

There are many I want to list! I am excited that ZERO TO THREE is reconnecting with some of its earliest roots to make infant and child mental health a focus especially because the orientation is a developmental approach of helping children within their families. I also am pleased that ZERO TO THREE is making social justice issues, and especially the debilitating problem of racism, a focal point for the upcoming annual conference and for future work. ZERO TO THREE is changing lives with its blossoming HealthySteps initiative, changing the experience of pediatric care to include child-family social emotional well-being. Finally, I am excited that ZERO TO THREE is adding the prenatal period to its purview, identifying that brain-behavior development begins before birth, and as such, the family context matters then as well. As the father of prenatal programming research, David Barker, said, ‘the womb is an influential first home’.

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

Certainly, the unprecedented pandemic is adding incredible life stress and hardships to families’ lives, often more so to those already struggling based on low socio-economic status. Loss of loved ones, the elimination of jobs, food insecurity—these are ongoing strains often in conjunction with ever more complicated issues around planning for childcare and schooling. The social isolation and demands to take on many roles with children full-time while also trying to work full-time are really overwhelming. This all can be traumatic—ongoing significant stress without a sense of agency to bring about a resolution. The world feels much less reliable, or even more unreliable, than prior to mid-March, 2020. In this COVID-19 context, having the energy and patience and emotional availability and sense of play and capacity for reflective functioning—some key components of optimal parenting and childcare provision, is very hard. ZERO TO THREE is helping, providing guidance and support, functioning as a clearinghouse of information helping parents and caregivers feel less alone and able to get the information they need to manage these times and provide the childcare and parenting they view as essential. As such, ZERO TO THREE helps those caring for children during this time to connect with the ideals of how they want to provide care, while acknowledging the current challenges to doing so. Mindfulness breaks on the web are a key component, providing community and tools for managing these times.

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

Unsure if this will be a surprise, though I do try to keep it under wraps: I view dark chocolate as an essential food group.

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