Researchers at Mt. Hope Family Center of the University of Rochester have been awarded a $1.7 million federal grant to study the long-term efficacy of a preventive intervention for mothers who were diagnosed with depression during the first 18 months of their child's life.

Building on earlier work with toddlers and their mothers, psychologists will use the four-year, National Institute of Mental Health grant to evaluate the impact of depression on the mother-child attachment relationship over a sustained period of time and to assess the long-term effectiveness of the preventive intervention on child development.

In an earlier investigation, the team of Dante Cicchetti, Sheree L. Toth and Fred Rogosch found that mothers who participated in the intervention actually had more secure attachment relationships with their preschool-aged children than did depressed mothers who did not receive the preventive intervention. Children of mothers taking part in the intervention also evidenced improvements in cognitive development.

"This is the first study that has demonstrated that attachment relationships can be improved through the provision of an attachment-theory informed intervention," said Cicchetti, director of Mt. Hope Family Center and professor in the departments of psychology, psychiatry, and pediatrics at the University of Rochester.

In the prior study, a group of toddlers and their mothers participated in a therapy program developed at Mt. Hope. Groups of depressed mothers not receiving the intervention and nondepressed mothers also were followed over time. Results showed that there were improvements in the mother-child attachment relationship after one year of intervention; other mothers and children who did not receive treatment showed no sign of improved attachment relationships.

"Maternal depression is a risk factor for children," said Toth, associate director of Mt. Hope. "Not all children are affected equally. Not every depressed mother has an insecure relationship with her child," she said. Toth said that mothers involved in the intervention have shared positive experiences about how the therapy they received made a difference in the quality of their family's life.

Children in the study, who are now nine years old, are being evaluated in various domains of development, including their relationships with peers and school functioning, in addition to continued assessments of parent-child relationships.

Founded in 1979, Mt. Hope Family Center conducts research in the area of developmental psychopathology and provides intervention directed toward fostering mental health in children, preventing child abuse and neglect, and promoting positive relationships between parents and their children.