Infant and carer attachment is the basis for lifelong mental health and wellbeing. We evaluated an ABC pilot supporting those experiencing infant-carer bonding difficulties.
Why is this important?
An infant’s social and emotional developmental capacities are largely influenced by their first relationships with their primary caregivers.
Supportive and responsive relationships between an infant and their primary caregivers promotes healthy childhood development and guides longer-term positive relationships into adulthood.
As such, interventions to promote secure attachment between an infant and a primary caregiver are an important early intervention approach to infant mental health and wellbeing, particularly for infants and families experiencing adversity.
Despite this evidence there continues to be gaps in access to, and availability of, evidence-based programs and services to support caregivers and infants experiencing attachment difficulties or disruption.
What we did
In recognition of these program and service gaps, we funded an independent evaluation of a pilot of the Attachment and Biobehavioural Catch-Up (ABC) program in south-east Queensland.
Accoras partnered with the University of Delaware to deliver the ABC pilot.
About the program
The ABC program is a home visiting parenting program developed by the University of Delaware. The program supports parents to nurture and respond sensitively to their infants and toddlers to foster their development and form strong and healthy relationships.
The ABC program has international evidence for improving developmental outcomes for infants who have experienced early adversity.
Accoras piloted the ABC program with families in the Brisbane South, Logan-Beaudesert, Caboolture, Deception Bay, and Gold Coast regions from March 2021 to April 2022. The project adapted and piloted the ABC program for the Queensland context with families with infants aged 6 to 24 months.
About the evaluation
The independent evaluator was asked to:
- examine the delivery and effectiveness of ABC program in the Queensland context, and
- consider the systemic implications for supporting early intervention in early life adversity and trauma.
The Queensland Mental Health Commission invited key infant mental health stakeholders from child safety, early education, child health, community, and advocacy sectors to participate in the design and oversight of the pilot’s evaluation.
The participation of key stakeholders was designed to increase cross-sector understanding of the importance of infant mental health for improving individual, family, community and system outcomes.
What we found
The evaluation of the ABC pilot identified the following systemic issues:
- The evaluation identified a very low systemic understanding of infant mental health and why it is important in child development.
- Sector leadership to drive change is needed because a clear and unified sense of direction is lacking across the many sectors involved in infant mental health.
- Workforce capacity to provide infant mental health services needs to be strengthened.
There is a significant need for an expanded range and accessibility to infant mental health supports in Queensland.
The ABC program has many positive characteristics and the pilot offered caregivers and infants who completed the program a positive experience that led to meaningful improvements in some attachment related outcomes. However, there are important implementation issues that require deep consideration in future delivery.
While there is great potential for programs such as ABC to have significant impact, a program cannot flourish without a system supporting it and a workforce with capability and capacity to deliver it.
It must be considered as just one element within an ecosystem of support, rather than a solution in isolation.
Continuing to develop and sustain systemic leadership in infant mental health is a priority for the Commission that can offer substantial benefits and returns.
How does this support reform?
This work supports the Shifting minds strategic plan priority to promote the best start in life for infants and children through:
- enhancing the quality of parenting skills and care
- providing access to universal infant, child and family programs and services
- providing early intervention and intensive supports for families at higher risk of experiencing mental health and alcohol and other drugs difficulties
- effective systemic leadership, knowledge building, and workforce capacity development activities across sectors that work with infants and their families.
For more information, please refer to the Evaluation of the Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC) program for supporting infant mental health in Queensland.