Read below for a more detailed description of the CHILD Studies Research Program’s objectives.

Objective 1 & 2

  1. To understand environmental predictors of children’s neurodevelopment, mental health and other health outcomes with a focus on parental perinatal distress (primarily depression, anxiety and biological substrates linked to stress such as cortisol).
  2. To understand underlying mechanisms, mediators and moderators1 for association between exposure to perinatal distress and children’s neurodevelopment, mental health and other health outcomes.

In seeking to achieve the first and second objective, Dr. Nicole Letourneau leads the APrON (Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition) cohort study of 2200 Alberta families, focusing specifically on examining the influence of parental perinatal distress (depression, anxiety) on infant development. Dr. Letourneau is also collaborating with Dr. Suzanne Tough on the Alberta Births Common Data (ABCD)2 that follows up with the APrON cohort to 8 years of age and co-leads the Fetal Programming Study3 along with Dr. Gerald Giesbrecht that studies the relationship between maternal perinatal mental distress and infant outcomes.

Dr. Letourneau also seeks to examine brain structure over time, linked to early experience and predictive of children’s mental disorders. Alongside her colleagues at the Owerko Centre, Dr. Letourneau would like to ultimately link the two lines of inquiry (epigenetics and neuroanatomy) in predicting children’s mental disorders. 


To develop and test interventions to support vulnerable children’s neurodevelopment and mental health in families affected by toxic stress

Dr. Letourneau works toward objective 3 by regularly developing and testing interventions to promote parents’, and by extension, children’s mental health via randomized controlled trials (RCT) or quasi-experiments. Funded by several sources including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Harvard Frontiers of Innovation, Dr. Letourneau leads several intervention research programs, including:

  • The Attachment and Child Health (ATTACH™) study, testing, scaling and spreading an innovative intervention to promote reflective function of mothers affected by toxic stress
  • and the Video-Feedback Interaction Guidance for Improving Interactions Between Depressed Mothers and their Infants (VID-KIDS) Study, that builds on Dr. Letourneau’s successful intervention pilot (funded by CIHR) that promoted high quality mother-infant relationships between mothers affected by postpartum depression and their infants.

objective 4

To translate research findings in multiple traditional and novel ways to achieve the largest audience and uptake possible

All of Dr. Letourneau’s research is community-based and seeks to develop evidence to guide best clinical and community health practice in Parent-Child support and intervention to promote children’s mental health, neurodevelopment and other child health outcomes. Dr. Letourneau’s research uses integrated knowledge translation (KT) strategies, that ensure that stakeholders are identified from policy-influencing4, program provision5 and research6, and then meaningfully engaged in the research project from inception.

Dr. Letourneau seeks to use as many KT strategies as possible, including traditional (e.g. peer-reviewed publications and conferences) and more current methods such as broadcast and print media interviews and opinion editorials as well as social media including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, webcasts, and electronic fact sheets. She also has published three books, click here to view them.

  1. Such as epigenetic patterns, genetic plasticity, child sex, early Parent-Child relationship qualities including sensitivity and responsiveness, maternal-child attachment security
  2. The Alberta Birth Common Data (ABCD) Study is funded by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation (ACHF)
  3. The Fetal Programming Study is a sub-sample of Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition and is funded by Canadians Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research (ACCFCR)
  4. e.g. government leadership and advocacy
  5. e.g. agencies providing relevant services
  6. e.g. mentors, senior colleagues