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Week of 22 January 1999

Vol. II, No. 20

Feature Article

Universities, disciplines converge at BU to promote infant and toddler development

By Eric McHenry

A new partnership among Boston colleges and universities to promote research and education on infant and toddler development, though in its infancy, is developing quickly.

The University Partnership for Infant and Toddler Professionals, inaugurated last October at a BU School of Medicine conference, has already introduced an innovative early child development course to the graduate curricula of its participating schools. Members of the partnership say that several other initiatives are in the offing, such as university-hosted institutes for professionals who care for young children and a leadership training effort for Early Head Start directors from throughout Massachusetts.

"At a typical college or university there are only a few early childhood experts from any given field, whether they're doctors or social workers or psychologists or early childhood educators," says Dr. Barry Zuckerman, professor and chairman of pediatrics at the BU School of Medicine and a founder of the partnership. "I thought it would be beneficial if a number of institutions came together to develop strategies to promote training for all leaders of community-based organizations and frontline providers. It's a way of increasing the community's capacity to care for its young children."

The partnership includes faculty from the Boston Medical Center, Sargent College, the BU Schools of Medicine and Social Work, Boston College, Simmons College, Tufts University, and Wheelock College.

Specialists from all the fields mentioned by Zuckerman form the panel that team-teaches Infant Well-Being: A Trans-Disciplinary Approach to Working with Infants and Their Caregivers, a weekly course for graduate students and selected undergraduates that premiered Thursday, January 14, at Sargent College. Libby Zimmerman, chairman of the human behavior department at the School of Social Work, says the course is organized around five key principles: the importance of positive relationships between caregivers and children, and between caregivers and the child-care professionals with whom they interact, the need for thorough, detailed observation on the part of those professionals, the need for sensitivity to cultural issues, and the need for awareness, when evaluating child care, of mediating factors such as poverty or congenital birth defects.

Faculty from different schools and disciplines take turns lecturing and leading discussions, Zimmerman says, depending upon the emphases of a given day's lesson. "But there will always be at least three or four faculty present. We envision one lead teacher accompanied by a panel. So the students will have an instructive model -- early childhood experts from different disciplines interacting with one another -- which we hope will promote their own dialogue."

The model seems to have worked as intended in the course's first session, according to partnership cofounder Margot Kaplan-Sanoff, MED clinical associate professor of pediatrics. "The class is made up of occupational therapists, social workers, doctoral students in child development, and child-life students, and they're all interested in transdisciplinary work. When they went around and said what they wanted from the course, that was a pretty consistent theme.

"We showed some videotapes," Kaplan-Sanoff adds, "and asked the students what they had observed and how they understood the behaviors presented. And of course they're all coming at it from the perspective of their own discipline, so everyone gets to hear voices from several disciplines commenting on the same piece of behavior."

Both the course