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The 2019 round of our Research Grant Scheme is now open. We invite researchers to propose projects that align with the ACI’s mandate, functions, strategic plan and research priorities. Our consultation phase ends 14 June – see for application information.

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Identifying deleterious effects of maternal depression on communication with 6-month-old infants in South West Sydney

Hub small grant funding will support research about the effect of maternal depression on the communication of children

More innovative research is being conducted by affiliates of three Hub member organisations, Western Sydney University, Karitane, and University of New South Wales. Dr Christa Lam-Cassettari (MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University), and Dr Jane Kohlhoff (Karitane, University of New South Wales) were awarded a South West Sydney Research Small Grant in 2016 to conduct this research.

Providing young infants with the best start to life is the intention of every parent. Evidence from laboratory studies shows that the quantity and quality of early communication significantly impacts on child language, intelligence and social development.

However, children of mothers with post-natal depression (PND) are more likely to show poor cognitive function, school readiness and intelligence quotients when compared to children with non-depressed.

This project will provide an opportunity to empirically test differences in the quality and quantity of speech of mothers to their pre-linguistic infants (before they can produce their first words) in two western Sydney corpuses, one with PND mothers and the other with non-depressed mothers.

The research collaboration brings together the expertise of two early career researchers with converging research backgrounds from two world-renowned research sites for infant studies located in western Sydney. The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University, which houses two Babylabs equipped with scientific tools to assess parent-child communication through language and gesture across the life span. Karitane, which provides parent support services that focus on improving the quality of early parent-child relationships, the day to day caretaking behaviours of parents with young children and parental mental health.

Lam-Cassettari has a scientific research background in quantifying quantitative and qualitative differences in infant-directed speech to hearing and hearing-impaired infants, and the relationship between parent-child interaction and child language outcomes. Kohlhoff has a clinical research background in parent-child interactions, perinatal mental health including PND and the implementation of parenting programs to promote optimal child outcomes. Combining the expertise of these two early career researchers provides a foundation for examining the longer-term effect of post-natal depression on infant language through ongoing collaboration between MARCS Institute and Karitane, and provides a direct opportunity to perform further empirical studies that will bridge current gaps in clinical practice.

The funds will be used to employ research assistants to perform the labour intensive tasks of coding and analysing the quantity and quality of speech in both corpuses of mother-infant play sessions. We are currently in the pre-processing stage of quantitative factors such as vocal pitch, and quantity of vocalisations in both corpuses (PND versus non-depressed mothers talking to their 4-6 month old infants). Naïve adults will also rate the quality of emotions in mother’s infant-directed speech will also be conducted using low-pass filtered speech samples. Funds will also be used to support two workshops/seminars to communicate the findings to staff/clinicians at Karitane, together with researchers/academics/ post-graduate students at MARCS Institute/Western Sydney University. These workshops will also provide a forum for discussion between the two organisations on how to support mothers with PND.

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This research was funded by one of two South West Sydney Research Small Grants in 2016. Read more about the scheme here.

The South West Sydney Research Small Grant Scheme is expected to be offered again in early 2019.

To be alerted when new opportunities become available please register with South West Sydney Research and join our members’ email list.

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