The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Richman Fellowship brings early childhood research expert Anna Herriott to campus

Anna HerriottAnna Herriott has devoted most of her career to early childhood development and supporting parent-child relationships. She now continues that work as the second Harold A. Richman Postdoctoral Fellow, a joint position shared by the School of Social Service Administration and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Herriott received her doctorate from Boston University this year in social work and sociology, where she sought to understand how best to support young children and their families, especially those affected by substance use disorders (SUDs). At Chapin Hall she will collaborate with Research Fellow Julie Spielberger. At SSA she will work with Sydney Hans, the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor.

"I was very excited about the opportunity to work with and learn from Sydney Hans and Julie Spielberger," Herriott said. "They are both outstanding scholars and my research interests align very closely with theirs. SSA and Chapin Hall have produced such compelling and significant research over the years; it's an honor to be part of that tradition now."

Spielberger said she was "pleased and excited to welcome Annie as part of our research team. Annie brings valuable qualitative and methodological skills and experience in both research and clinical practice and a commitment to improving the practices and policies that affect the well-being of parents and young children."

At Chapin Hall, Herriott joins a team that is integrating different types of data in a mixed-methods evaluation of a new approach to infant and early childhood mental health consultation.

"Developed by the Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership and funded by public and private partners, this approach is being implemented in several different early childhood settings, including home visiting and center-based preschool and child-care programs," Spielberger noted.

At SSA, Herriott works with Hans's team analyzing a randomized control trial examining the role of community doulas (birthing and labor coaches) within home visiting programs for young mothers and their infants.

"Although many social workers practice with infants, toddlers, and their parents, very few social work researchers have expertise in early child development," Hans said. "Annie Herriott stands out with her exceptional understanding of young children, much of it gained while earning a master's degree in child development from the Erikson Institute here in Chicago."

While working on her PhD at Boston University, Herriott gained important experience developing and evaluating interventions to support young children and their families, Hans added.

"Her dissertation research with pregnant and postpartum women with substance use disorders prepared her to immediately begin a collaboration with me on a study of attachment relationships between opioid-using women and their young children. Annie has much to contribute to this project with her deep understanding of young children and women who are struggling with substance dependence."

Herriott also is writing papers based on her dissertation research, which focused on prenatal care for women with substance use disorders, mostly involving opioid misuse. The research involved interviewing new mothers as well as prenatal health care providers.

Both groups identified factors that bolstered trust and connection in the patient-provider relationship. This included being non-judgmental but also medically informative to women who are often stigmatized and marginalized, Herriott found. The women emphasized the value of seeing their providers fully acknowledge them as having worth and dignity.

The ways that society fails to recognize and support women who are affected by SUDs and trauma presents a big challenge, Herriott said. The new mothers she met had entered prenatal care newly motivated in recovery from their SUDs and driven by a desire to protect their child. Her research findings point to just how inherently complex pregnancy and prenatal care is in the context of SUDs

"What they needed from their providers and the health care system was clear medical information that was free of moral judgment," she said. "There is a lot of misinformation out there about pregnancy and substance use disorders, much of it built on this solid foundation of fear and judgment."

The Harold A. Richman Postdoctoral Fellowship was established to support outstanding scholars interested in applied research careers focusing on child, youth, and family well being. The Fellowship was named for Richman, who was Chapin Hall's founding director and a former dean of SSA from 1969-1978.

-- Steve Koppes