Creating a Healthy Future for Our Children
Awareness Day Honors T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.
By Meredith Hogan Pond
On the eve of his 92nd birthday, world-renowned pediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., received the SAMHSA Special Recognition Award for his pioneering work in pediatric and early childhood development over the past six decades.
SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., presented the award at the Awareness Day Early Childhood Forum on May 6. (See photo.)
SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde presents Dr. T. Berry Brazelton with the Special Recognition Award from the Agency for lifetime achievement on behalf of our Nation’s children.
“I am proud of SAMHSA,” Dr. Brazelton said in his acceptance speech. “The Agency understands that children’s mental health is not constructed in therapists’ offices, clinics, and hospitals. By the time a child ends up there, it may be too late.”
A leading force behind the pediatric health care revolution, Dr. Brazelton developed the groundbreaking Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS), which is now used worldwide to recognize the physical and neurological responses of newborns, as well as emotional well-being and individual differences.
His legacy continues to transform our understanding of child development. “Children’s mental health depends on healthy families and strong communities. We must start early on,” Dr. Brazelton said.
In a recent interview at their offices in Boston near Fenway Park, Dr. Brazelton and his colleague, Joshua Sparrow, M.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, talked about a vision of the future for our Nation’s children.
“I’d like to see children have resilience: the ability to withstand problems and times when they are in trouble,” Dr. Brazelton said. “And children should learn to have empathy for other people, to care about other people. Those two are critical. Making parents feel they are supported as they raise their children makes all the difference. Communities can really help.”
Dr. Brazelton acknowledges that raising a child has never been easy. But at present, childrearing is more challenging than ever.
“Parents want to encourage their children to believe in themselves,” Dr. Brazelton said. “Yet parents must struggle to prepare their children for a highly competitive world. Working harder than ever, parents are also more alone than ever,” he continued. “For many of us, safe backyards, the support of neighbors, relatives, and family traditions, are distant memories. Parents need time for their families, someone to turn to about their children’s behavior, and a community to rely on.”
Dr. Brazelton added, “We can change things if we want to. And I think that basically most people want to. I think we can do better. I’m willing to help SAMHSA in any way I can. I love to travel. I love to stir things up.”
Of concern are recent NSDUH data that suggest once women give birth, many new mothers resume the use of alcohol, cigarettes, illicit drugs, or engage in binge drinking.
The report, Substance Use among Women During Pregnancy and Following Childbirth, studies NSDUH data gathered between 2002 and 2007. Results show that most women are heeding warnings about the dangers that substance use during pregnancy can pose.
“Substance use during pregnancy is a marker for all kinds of other things,” said Dr. Sparrow. He mentioned for examples, poverty, trauma, and domestic violence, as well as a range of mental illnesses, including depression during pregnancy, not just post-partum depression.
“So you can imagine,” Dr. Sparrow said, “that if a mother can eliminate substance abuse during pregnancy, she may not be able to eliminate all these other things that may be a part of pushing her back into drugs or alcohol once the baby is there.”
Dr. Brazelton added, “If you talk to a pregnant mother and say, ‘You know it’s going to be hard for you to make it with this baby so you’re liable to start using substances again. But let me help because when you start using substances then you won’t be able to understand this baby. Let me show you how exciting your baby is,’ ” he said. “We want to get them ‘hooked’ on the baby right from the first,” he said. “And then understand how to calm the baby down, how to keep the baby from being ‘an itch.’ You need to give these mothers enough support so they know how to handle that baby without getting out of control. And then I think they might not turn to substances. But I think it must be very hard to give it up when you need it.”
To reach as many families as possible, the Brazelton Touchpoints Center® reaches out to early childhood educators, early interventionists, and health care and social service providers who are ready for change – a change from focusing only on what’s wrong, to focusing also on what's right; a change from telling parents what to do, to listening to what families need and supporting their discovery of what is best for their children. Since 1996, the Brazelton Touchpoints Approach has reached over 13,000 providers in over 130 communities, and more than one million families.
Visit www.touchpoints.org for more information.
To learn more about SAMHSA’s work with children and families, visit the SAMHSA Web site at www.samhsa.gov.