Dr. Kathryn E. Barnard, an American Academy of Nursing Living Legend, died Saturday, June 27. She was 77.
Barnard was an internationally recognized pioneer in the field of infant mental health and a renowned researcher, teacher and innovator.
“Dr. Barnard was a visionary nurse scientist who believed deeply that every child not only has the right to early nurturing relationships, but also that those relationships are the foundation for life-long healthy development,” said Dr. Azita Emami, Robert G. and Jean A. Reid dean of the UW School of Nursing. “This belief inspired her landmark research and compelled her to provide tools and professional development to infant and early childhood mental health practitioners so that every child could experience the best possible start.”
After receiving her master’s degree from Boston University, she was recruited to the University of Washington in 1963, where she stayed until her retirement in 2006. She was instrumental in generating a national movement toward investigating and emphasizing maternal child health issues and the importance of the infancy period.
Barnard earned her Ph.D. in Ecology of Early Childhood Development from the University of Washington in 1972. During her dissertation, she became interested in how an incubator could help a baby maintain more mature patterns of sleep through simulating rocking and heartbeat. She developed a rocking bed and found that rocking improved infants’ weight gain and motor and sensory functions.
Today, rocking chairs are standard in hospital nurseries and neonatal intensive care units, and both parents and caregivers are encouraged to rock the tiny infants. Barnard said this success with early intervention was one of her proudest personal contributions to the field of child development.
Barnard continued to promote infant mental health nationally throughout the 1980s, joining the nascent organization the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs, which is now ZERO TO THREE, and serving on an advisory group of the National Institutes of Mental Health. She was instrumental in the development and publication of the Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood (also known as the DC:0-3).
“Babies everywhere have lost one of their foremost champions,” said Matthew Melmed, Executive Director of ZERO TO THREE. “Dr. Barnard was committed to putting research into practice to improve the lives of babies. Her fearless determination helped shape public policy and promote the special and sensitive relationships that exist between parents and their babies. Dr. Barnard served on our Board for 37 years – including one term as President – and ZERO TO THREE is honored to continue her legacy through the work we conduct every day.”