Maltreatment, mental health of babies; Dixie State group to present findings in Prague

ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University psychology and biology students and graduates are heading to Prague, Czech Republic, next month to present at the 15th World Congress for the World Association of Infant Mental Health. According to Dixie State University student findings, 20 percent of children in Utah that are reported as maltreated are infants and toddlers and 26 percent of Utah’s children in foster care are infants and toddlers.

Stock image | St. George News

The students in the Neuroscience in Relationship Development Lab have conducted research on factors that promote empathic care of infants and toddlers and will present their research May 29 through June 2.

“This research is particularly important because children younger than 3 are abused by their caregivers at higher rates than older children,” Dixie State Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Dannelle Larsen-Rife said. Larsen-Rife serves as the Relationship Development Lab faculty advisor. “The health and well-being of young children and their families in Utah is of primary importance to us.”

Ashley Sumner, public information officer for Utah Child and Family Services, said that children 3 and under are one of the most vulnerable segments of society and are completely dependent on their caregivers. Children of that age cannot express themselves as well and often cannot communicate when abuse or neglect has occurred. That age group also has some of the highest abuse-caused fatality numbers for children.

“When they are abused, neglected – because they are such a vulnerable, fragile age – it ends up being more severe,” Sumner said, “and it ends up a fatality more often.”

The definition of maltreatment of children in Utah is taken from federal guidelines, Sumner said. Broadly defined, maltreatment is considered:

  1. Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or
  2. an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

According to The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities: “Children who die from abuse and neglect are overwhelmingly young; approximately one-half are less than a year old, and 75 percent are under 3 years of age.”

Stock image | St. George News
Stock image | St. George News

Students in the Neuroscience in Relationship Development Lab are eager to become professionals who work in prevention and intervention programs to help Utah’s youngest children and their families, Larsen-Rife said.  

The Relationship Development Lab’s findings will be presented at the annual congress of the World Association of Infant Mental Health, an organization that promotes education, research and study on how infants’ mental, emotional and social development affect their psychopathological development. Psychopathological development refers to children who develop psychological disorders due to neglectful or abusive situations, Larsen-Rife said.

In addition to members of the Development Lab, luminaries in the infant mental health field from all over the world will teach courses at the congress.

Subject matters covered at the congress will include understanding the effects of trauma, the importance of the parent-child relationship, working with children who have been neglected or abused and promoting healthy development.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to represent Dixie State University and Utah at this international conference alongside leaders in the field of infant mental health,” Lyndsey Craig, a Dixie State junior and member of the Relationship Development Lab, said.

Donations needed

Members of the Development Lab are in the process of raising funds to help cover the cost of registration and travel to attend the conference. Eleven members of the research lab are planning on attending, and nearly $20,000 is needed to send them.

The lab will hold several fundraisers and is seeking contributions from local businesses and organizations to reach their goal.

Donations can be made by contacting Larsen-Rife at telephone 435-652-7823 or email [email protected].

Donations can also be made through the Dixie State University Development Office online by selecting “Other” and designating the Development Lab as the recipient.


  • Dixie State University Neuroscience in Relationship Development Lab Web page
  • World Association for Infant Mental Health Website
  • State of Utah Child and Family Services Website
  • The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities Website

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.


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