UW News

February 28, 2002

Barnard named Spence nursing professor

Kathy Dannenhold
School of Nursing

In recognition of her outstanding leadership, scholarship and passion for the well being of infants and young children, Dr. Kathryn E. Barnard has been named the Spence Professor in Nursing.

Barnard’s name has been synonymous with research linking early child development to factors in the environment for over 30 years. In 1985, when Barnard became the first woman at the UW to deliver the Annual Faculty Lecture, the topic of her presentation was “Infants Can’t Wait.” Seventeen years later, Barnard’s ongoing research into the cognitive and emotional development of infants has been transformational, shaping government policy locally and nationally, reforming curricula in both nursing and medical schools and, through NCAST (Nursing Child Assessment Satellite Training) a program she developed in the early 1970s, sharing the benefits of her research with thousands of health-care professionals worldwide over communications satellite.

The core of Barnard’s lifelong work has been to show that healthy infant development is dependent upon a parent or caretaker responding to signals from the child in a loving and dependable manner, starting from the moment of birth. Although important for every child, such feedback becomes even more critical when infants are born prematurely, or when they are being raised by parents whose own histories include limited education, financial pressures, lack of social support, drug or alcohol addiction, or mental health problems.

Barnard’s published finding that the strongest predictor of infant development is the parent-child relationship has transformed the way that health-care providers evaluate children. It has also led to additional research breakthroughs on the pivotal role early intervention therapy can play in preventing later problems in behavior, cognition and emotional development.

In 2001, under Barnard’s leadership, the Center on Infant Mental Health and Development was created as a partnership between the UW Center on Human Development and Disability and the School of Nursing. Barnard serves as director of the new Center, which places special emphasis on at-risk infants. The Center will promote interdisciplinary research, education and practice and advance public policy related to the social and emotional development of children during the first five years. In addition, a graduate certificate program in Infant Mental Health, offering training in early intervention therapy, began in January through the School of Nursing. No other academic program of this kind exists in the Pacific Northwest, and less than 10 exist nationwide.

As Spence Professor, Barnard will continue to advance knowledge about infant mental health and improve support systems for families with newborns and young children. Barnard sees this as the first step in building stronger communities and minimizing future costs to schools, social service agencies, and prison systems. By the year 2010, predicts Barnard, “the State of Washington will be dramatically different in its services to families and children.”

Barnard was one of the first nurses to be named as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing in 1975. She was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 1985. In addition to her position as professor of family and child nursing, she also holds an adjunct professorship in psychology and is a research affiliate of the Center on Human Development and Disability.

The Charles and Gerda Spence Endowed Professorship in Nursing was established in 1995 to enhance the University’s ability to attract and retain distinguished faculty within nursing. Barnard is the second Spence Professor; the first was Dr. Leona Eggert, who retired last year.