Maternal and Child Health Research Program

Advancing Applied MCH Research

MCH Research Mission

Supporting an applied and translational research program is one of the many ways that MCHB meets its national responsibility to promote and improve the health and wellbeing of all mothers, children, and families. As an interdisciplinary field of inquiry, the study and practice of Maternal and Child Health (MCH):

Photo of Mother, Father and Child

  • Addresses the unique developmental and epidemiological characteristics of women, children, and adolescents
  • Highlights the complex interaction of physical, social, and environmental influences on health and wellbeing
  • Employs an integrated view of families, their health, and wellbeing over the lifespan and across generations
  • Uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine the interwoven roles of families, communities, culture, and policy in the promotion of health and wellbeing.
  • Emphasizes the use of analytic and methodological skills in designing and evaluating policies, programs, and interventions.

Some contemporary MCH research concerns include:

  • Racial health disparities
  • Effects of social context on outcomes
  • Effective coordination and delivery of services to at-risk children and families across multiple domains (e.g., physical, cognitive, social, and emotional) and settings (e.g., families, schools, communities, policies, agencies, and institutions).

The field of MCH is distinctive for its emphasis on a life course approach that integrates theory and knowledge from multiple disciplines to understand the early antecedents of children's trajectories across the lifespan. A particular focus is given to the health and wellbeing of parents as they foster children's development and serve to buffer the effects of adversities on child health and wellbeing. The life course framework also highlights the importance of providing appropriate support and intervention throughout the lifespan.

A fundamental lynchpin of MCH research is establishing the evidence to support the development and implementation of interventions that respond to a variety of maternal and child health concerns. This applied research provides the evidence base for interventions that can prevent or ameliorate negative outcomes in children's health and wellbeing. Inherent in this approach is a commitment to conduct research that seeks to assess and improve coordinated systems of care, programs, and policies related to the health and wellbeing of families and children. For example, research by Shonkoff (2010) suggests the need to overcome the persistent fragmentation that typifies current health, education, and human services systems, and strive instead for an integrated approach that addresses the early childhood roots of disparities in learning, social and emotional wellbeing, and physical health. In addition, the MCH Research Program supports a translational research approach focused on implementation and dissemination science.

Within MCHB, the MCH Research Program works to improve the health of mothers, children, and adolescents by supporting research that has the potential to improve health services and delivery of care for maternal and child health populations. The MCH Research Program's strategic objectives include funding for investigator-initiated studies that advance our understanding of:

  • Public health service systems and infrastructures at the community, State and/or national levels, as they apply to different MCH populations.
  • Efforts to eliminate health disparities and barriers to health care access for MCH populations. These health disparities and barriers to health care access may include racial/ethnic, cultural, linguistic, gender, developmental, geographic, immigrant, underserved, economic considerations, etc.
  • Services and systems that assure quality of care for MCH populations.
  • Promoting the healthy development of MCH populations.

The MCH Research Program also supports autism research through the Combating Autism Act Initiative.

1 Shonkoff JP. Building a new biodevelopmental framework to guide the future of early childhood policy. Child Development. 2010;81(1):357-367.

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