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This replication study examined protective effects of positive childhood memories with caregivers (“angels in the nursery”) against lifespan and intergenerational transmission of trauma. More positive, elaborated angel memories were hypothesized to buffer associations between mothers’ childhood maltreatment and their adulthood posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression symptoms, comorbid psychopathology, and children's trauma exposure. Participants were 185 mothers (M age = 30.67 years, SD = 6.44, range = 17–46 years, 54.6% Latina, 17.8% White, 10.3% African American, 17.3% other; 24% Spanish speaking) and children (M age = 42.51 months; SD = 15.95, range = 3–72 months; 51.4% male). Mothers completed the Angels in the Nursery Interview (Van Horn, Lieberman, & Harris, 2008), and assessments of childhood maltreatment, adulthood psychopathology, children's trauma exposure, and demographics. Angel memories significantly moderated associations between maltreatment and PTSD (but not depression) symptoms, comorbid psychopathology, and children's trauma exposure. For mothers with less positive, elaborated angel memories, higher levels of maltreatment predicted higher levels of psychopathology and children's trauma exposure. For mothers with more positive, elaborated memories, however, predictive associations were not significant, reflecting protective effects. Furthermore, protective effects against children's trauma exposure were significant only for female children, suggesting that angel memories may specifically buffer against intergenerational trauma from mothers to daughters.
Mental health intervention in the early years is a relatively recent development, spurred by increasing clinical and research evidence that emotional and behavioral disturbances in the first five years of life often involve more than transient developmental upheavals that the child will outgrow. It is increasingly recognized that these disturbances, if severe and enduring enough, may represent the earliest manifestations of clinical disorders that can become entrenched unless effectively addressed (Sameroff & Emde, 1989; Scheeringa, Zeanah, Myers, & Putnam, 2005). This chapter focuses on the factors that need to be addressed in providing effective mental health intervention to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are at risk for mental health disorders due to detrimental environmental circumstances. Mental health intervention for children with diagnosable neurodevelopmental or physical disabilities is outside the scope of this chapter.
There is solid empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of intervention programs in infancy and early childhood. As stated in “Neurons to Neighborhoods,” a landmark report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine Committee on the Science of Early Childhood Development, “The overarching question of whether we can intervene successfully in young children's lives has been answered in the affirmative and should be put to rest” (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000, 10). The report goes on to caution: “However, interventions that work are rarely simple, inexpensive, or easy to implement” (10). This chapter seeks to elucidate the common themes that characterize successful mental health intervention in infancy and early childhood.
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