The identification of early life precursors to psychopathology in a high risk population has considerable promise for efforts to mitigate the public health burden of mental disorders. Hispanic children, members of the fastest growing ethnic group in the US, are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic white children to be raised in poverty, and considerable research documents deleterious effects of poverty and ethnic minority status on brain development, stress physiology, development of social and emotional regulatory capacity, and lifespan mental and physical health. To better understand developmental precursors to psychopathology in very low- income ethnic minority children, we propose to capitalize on data collected by an NIMH-funded longitudinal study of Mexican American mothers and infants ("Las Madres Nuevas") that addressed maternal mental health and mother-infant coregulation across the first two postpartum years. The proposed project will focus on the children from Las Madres Nuevas as they approach a critical developmental transition period (ages 3-6). We will chart trajectories of cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral competence, with the goal of early identification and predication of points at which elevated risk for disorder emerges. Our project will focus on the emergence of self-regulatory skills from early life mother-infant coregulation as a central mechanism by which early life risk factors translate into lifespan health outcomes for low-income children. The development of self- regulatory ability is a critical foundation for lifespan mental health, but Hispanic children and children from disadvantaged environments are at risk of impaired self-regulatory skills as they enter kindergarten. Our scientific approach emphasizes the cultural embeddedness of development, with the view that child outcomes must be examined with attention to cultural forces that shape and give meaning to self-regulation and mental health. We also address the role of early life biological susceptibility in shaping children's developing regulatory skills. In combination, this project holds great potential to address central questions about cultural, biological, and environmental contributions to adaptive regulatory capacity;identify early precursors to psychopathology in a high risk ethnic group;and enhance opportunities for translation to treatment and prevention.
Children raised in poverty face significantly elevated risk for developmental deficits, behavioral and emotional health problems, and poor lifespan mental and physical health. Ethnic minority status compounds the risk, but little is known about mechanisms of risk or cultural-contextual factors that may mitigate risk. A central goal of this project is to unravel developmental pathways that lead to positive or negative adaptation for minority children in a high risk context, information critical for identifying modifiable targets for intervention and prevention programs.