Program Expands Infant-Family Mental Health Services

Published on 
November 6, 2020


$5 million grant will allow Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to reach more children and families.

By Katie Sweeney

Marian Williams, PhD
Marian Williams, PhD

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is expanding support for infants with complex medical needs and their families through the Stein Tikun Olam Infant-Family Mental Health Initiative.

Established in 2015, the initiative recently received a new, $5 million grant from the Tikun Olam Foundation. The grant extends the initiative through 2024 and will allow Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to support more children with infant-family mental health services.

The initiative—co-led by Marian Williams, PhD, and Melissa Carson, PsyD—aims to provide the most vulnerable infants and their families with access to innovative, evidence-based mental health services. The goal is to help them develop resilience and overcome the challenges and psychosocial stressors that often come with having complex medical conditions and extended infant hospitalization.

As part of this effort, a continuum of mental health services is already available in the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit (NICCU), the Fetal-Maternal Center and the Newborn Follow-Up Program. Families also can access outpatient, home-based and telehealth interventions.

“A lot of mental health work in NICUs has focused on either the mental health of parents or on the baby’s development,” Dr. Williams says. “We are doing both, but we’re also focusing on the relationship between babies and their parents.”

To further support families during the high-stress time of infant hospitalization, the team will soon launch a new protocol in the NICCU to screen parents for anxiety, depression and trauma. The standardized screenings will be available in both English and Spanish and conducted two weeks after admission to the unit and again before a baby is discharged.

Screenings will be administered by Angelica Moreyra, PsyD, the NICCU’s full-time clinical psychologist, and two psychology postdoctoral fellows. Responses that are either above the clinical threshold or that indicate suicidal ideation will trigger alerts to the team and to NICCU social workers for rapid follow-up.

In addition to reaching more children and families, the team plans to develop advanced training models to cultivate more experts in infant-family mental health and to prepare an interdisciplinary workforce to lead and support this care.