Stockbridge, MA – April 6, 2017 – The Austen Riggs Center, through the Erikson Institute for Education and Research, has received a major grant from the John Leopold Weil and Geraldine Rickard Weil Memorial Charitable Foundation, Inc., to support its new Human Development Strategic Initiative. This multilayered initiative encompasses community intervention, research, and education, which are central tasks of the Erikson Institute. According to Dr. Donna Elmendorf, director of the Austen Riggs Therapeutic Community Program and leader of the Human Development Strategic Initiative, "The primary aim of this new endeavor is to support infant, child, and family mental health in Berkshire County, while also bringing a deeper understanding of the developmental process to the Riggs staff and patients. The Human Development Strategic Initiative will apply our relational view of early development to a community-based preventive model of care. The offerings will build on learning from our Therapeutic Community Program in which an individual is recognized, understood, and supported in the broader contexts of family, community, and society. This initiative provides an opportunity to extend the impact of our work beyond the small number of patients who have access to our intensive residential treatment through meaningful engagement in our local community. Staff and patients at Austen Riggs will, in turn, benefit from this effort as we deepen our knowledge about the impact of early adversity on the unfolding developmental process and about the importance of recognizing children's early efforts at communicating. We are very grateful to the Weil Foundation for this important support."
Through conversations with local professionals serving the mental health needs of children and families in southern Berkshire County, as well as representatives from the local schools, Riggs recognized the need to support new families from the very start. The Human Development Strategic Initiative's first project has evolved as a partnership with Fairview Hospital, Community Health Programs, and MACONY Pediatrics and is guided by Riggs' staff member, Claudia Gold, MD, pediatrician and infant-parent mental health specialist. Community support for the project has been robust.
In the initial phase of the project, Riggs will provide training for maternity nurses, pediatricians, early intervention clinicians, family physicians, nurse practitioners, and home visitors to learn a new approach to helping parents recognize and respond to their newborn's unique qualities and capacity for communication – the Newborn Behavioral Observations (NBO) system.
According to Dr. Gold, "This comprehensive community-based intervention offers a model of care for a rural population, a group for which there is a dearth of good research on infant-parent intervention. Clinicians who treat young families often must deal with problems such as substance abuse, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, and intergenerational trauma. Because ours is a population-based intervention, it allows us to treat everyone, without specifically identifying 'at-risk' groups in a way that can be stigmatizing."
We hope that through our capacity to reach such a sizeable portion of our community we can learn about a population intervention relevant to, but much more difficult to study in, an urban environment. Ultimately, we hope to extend our efforts to work with preschoolers and school-aged children and their families.
According to Tony Bram, PhD, member of the Board of Trustees of the foundation, "This initiative is directly in line with the Weil Foundation's goals. Drs. John and Geraldine Weil dedicated their lives to the wellbeing of children. At their behest, and in their memory, the foundation is dedicated to carrying on their legacy by working to ameliorate psychological problems of children. We are pleased to be able to support the work of the Austen Riggs Center in this important way."
Additional support for the initiative has been provided by Berkshire United Way and by an anonymous donor.
About the Austen Riggs Center
Austen Riggs Center, a leading psychiatric hospital and residential treatment program, has been serving adults since 1919. Within a completely open setting, patients are provided immersion in an intensive treatment milieu that emphasizes respectful engagement. Individual psychodynamic psychotherapy is provided four times a week by doctors on staff. The Erikson Institute for Education and Research of the Austen Riggs Center studies individuals in their social contexts through research, training, education, and outreach programs in the local community and beyond.
The Austen Riggs Center is located in Stockbridge, MA. For more information about its services, please call  298.5511 or  517.4447 or visit http://www.austenriggs.org.