Kathryn Barnard

Kathryn Barnard

Dr. Kathryn Barnard’s contri­bu­tions to nursing were enormous. She was truly a legend, and she was an outstanding, teacher, mentor, role-model and friend to many. 

Kathryn was recog­nized inter­na­tion­ally for her pioneering work in the field of infant mental health and her research into the social and emotional devel­op­ment of children during the first five years of life. 

In 2001, she estab­lished the ground­breaking Center on Infant Mental Health and Devel­op­ment at the Univer­sity of Washington, in collab­o­ra­tion with the UW Center on Human Devel­op­ment and Disability. The goal was to support the profes­sional devel­op­ment of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary infant mental health practi­tioners. In 2012, the Center was renamed The Barnard Center in Kathryn’s honor. The Center’s ongoing work providing quality research, training and educa­tion to promote healthy social and emotional devel­op­ment is one of Kathryn’s greatest legacies. 

Kathryn wanted to be a nurse from the first grade and got her first nursing job at the age of 16. She worked in her home state of Nebraska before being recruited to the Univer­sity of Washington in 1963. 

When she began her work with infants and their parents, there was little appre­ci­a­tion for the lifelong impact of those very early years and the connec­tion between earliest commu­ni­ca­tions, touch and brain devel­op­ment on future social and emotional well-being. Kathryn’s work changed all of that! 

In 1971, Presi­dent Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty gave Kathryn an early oppor­tu­nity to pursue research in the field. The U.S. Public Health Service commis­sioned her to design a research project to help identify children who could be at risk for later devel­op­mental problems because of their early environments. 

In 1972, while working on her PhD disser­ta­tion, Kathryn became inter­ested in designing a better incubator – one that simulated rocking and heart­beat to help infants develop more mature sleep patterns. The rocking bed she devel­oped improved infants’ weight gain and motor and sensory functions. Today, hospital nurseries and NICUs often encourage rocking tiny infants and provide rocking chairs to do so as a direct result of Kathryn’s work. It was one of her proudest contri­bu­tions to the field of child development. 

Kathryn was known for her compas­sion for mothers who had multiple risk factors, such as drug use, poverty, mental health problems and social isola­tion. She supported policies and devel­oped programs, including home visita­tion, to support women facing these kinds of challenges through pregnancy and the first year of their infants’ lives. 

Kathryn didn’t leave her research in the lab or in programs she was involved with person­ally. She wanted profes­sionals, parents and other caregivers to benefit from what she learned, and in 1979 her research formed the founda­tion of Nursing Child Assess­ment Satel­lite Training, known as NCAST, which continues today to produce and develop research-based products, assess­ments and training programs. 

The first offering of NCAST explained the Parent Child Inter­ac­tion Feeding and Teaching Scales, or PCI, which were the first clinical research level parent-child inter­ac­tion assess­ment tools. PCI remains the standard for measuring parent-child inter­ac­tion in the U.S. Since its incep­tion, PCI has been employed in nearly 100 published research studies. There are more than 800 NCAST Certi­fied Instruc­tors, repre­senting nearly every state in the U.S. and several foreign countries. 

Kathryn’s influ­ence on the field of infant mental health was recog­nized with numerous honors and awards, including: 

  • The Gustav O. Leinhard Award from the Insti­tute of Medicine, which she shared with Dr. T. Berry Brazelton 
  • The Living Legend Award from the American Academy of Nursing 
  • The Episteme Award from Sigma Theta Tau International 

Kathryn also shared her knowl­edge and wisdom as a member of the Board of Direc­tors of the ZERO TO THREE National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families and as a board member of the World Associ­a­tion of Infant Mental Health. 

Kathryn Barnard died in June 2015, leaving behind a legacy as a researcher, practi­tioner, educator, colleague, mentor and friend.