Developing Child and Family


Director: Martha Edwards, PhD

The Center for the Developing Child and Family is dedicated to the growth and development of children and families and the professionals who serve them. The Center’s programs include direct services to families, as well as professional training for therapists, agency staff, teachers and administrators. Programs are implemented in public and private school settings, Early Head Start and Head Start programs, foster care agencies, social service agencies, and at the Ackerman Institute. Scroll down to find out more.

Learn more about the Developing Child and Family in this Ackerman Podcast episode! 

Developing Child and Family Project

Major initiatives include:

Community based prevention programs for at risk families:

  • Bright Beginnings – a manualized curriculum for pregnant women and parents and children (age birth to 3 years old) together.
  • Personal Best – a manualized curriculum for parents with young children
  • Personal Best for Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care – a manualized curriculum adapted from the original Personal Best to implement with parenting youth
  • Foster Parent Training for foster parents who care for parenting youth and their child in home-based care

School-based program supporting schools in teaching social-emotional competencies and enhancing family-school partnerships:

Programs for families with a special needs child:

  • Resilient Families: Children with Special Needs Project – Three major initiatives:

  • Family Therapy Services – The Resilient Families project team members have the specialized knowledge and skills to offer family therapy services to families who have children with Autism, ADHD, learning disabilities and other developmental disabilities.
  • Parent Discussion Groups – Parent Discussion Groups are offered at Ackerman and at community schools and agencies to help parents manage the cumulative stress they experience raising a child with special needs. Each session addresses a specific theme such as parenting beliefs and practices, family routines and relationships and dealing with larger systems. As a training opportunity, Ackerman therapists co-facilitate groups with staff at different agencies to meet the needs of the families they serve.
  • Staff Training and Consultation – Workshops are offered at Ackerman or specifically designed to build staff capacity at different schools and agencies, The workshops are intended to improve the quality of family-centered services delivered by teachers, related service providers and mental health professionals.

For more information, contact Martha Edwards, PhD:

Bright Beginnings

Director: Martha Edwards, PhD
Bright Beginnings is a theoretically based intervention for families making the transition to parenthood, consisting of group discussions and parent-child activities. Developed by Dr. Martha Edwards, it is designed to help parents promote their children’s social and emotional development and school readiness through a curriculum that includes a prenatal component for expectant mothers, a group component for parents with their infant or toddler, a video review component, and a home visiting component.

Prenatal Component
The prenatal component consists of six sessions of discussion and activities for expectant mothers. The focus is on developing a bond with their unborn child and both receiving and providing support to other women in the same stage of life. The prenatal component may also include couple sessions with expectant fathers.

The Parent-Child Group Component
The parent-child group component consists of five six-session cycles of groups that parents attend with their child from two months to 30 months. The sessions are carefully structured around a theme (e.g., Learning about the world; Learning to communicate; Playing is learning; Guiding children’s behavior). The sessions include in-depth discussion about the theme and application of these ideas to parent-child interactive activities.

The Video Review Component
Parents and their child are videotaped for 10 minutes doing a variety of activities, (e.g. playing with toys, reading books, and blowing bubbles together. The clinician reviews the taped parent-child interaction and watches closely for the strengths between parent and child. In a scheduled one-on-one visit, the clinician watches the video with the parent and together they learn from the taped interaction. This component individualizes the curriculum for each parent and child.

Home Visiting Component
Home visits are implemented to individualize the program for each family and to reinforce the Bright Beginnings objectives.

Bright Beginnings and Personal Best are currently being implemented at:

  • Coalition for Hispanic Family Services, Bushwick, Brooklyn.
  • University Settlement House, Early Head Start Program, Lower East Side, Manhattan.
  • Child Center of New York, Early Head Start Program, Queens.
  • New York Foundling Mother-Child Residential Program, Staten Island and Bronx.
  • Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, Bronx, NY

These projects are funded through generous grants from the Robin Hood Foundation and Under Fives Grant.

Personal Best

Developed by Dr. Grossman, the standard Personal Best curriculum is a 16-session group experience that promotes parent mental health, social support and sense of self-efficacy in multiple roles including parent, partner, student/worker, family member and friend. A core feature is the process of building resilience through graded mastery experiences and mutual support. The four modules focus on managing stress, parenting beliefs, communication and problems solving skills and family self-sufficiency. The curriculum supports a two generation approach to service delivery that focuses on adult development in addition to child development and the parent-child relationship.

Personal Best for Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care
The Personal Best curriculum has been expressly adapted to promote the life course development of Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care. With some modification, it can also be used with non-parenting adolescents. Additional sessions promote the adolescent’s executive function, emotional and behavioral self-regulation, and life skills to transition to adulthood.

The Personal Best-PPY curriculum consists of 22 group sessions organized into four modules (Understanding My Life, Managing My Life, Understanding Myself and My Child and Developing Life Skills) as well as individual sessions for goal setting. During each session the group facilitators integrate education, skill development, self-reflection and activity-based experiences.

A modified Personal Best curriculum is also being implemented with agency staff to promote their personal development and strategies to manage stress in the workplace. Personal Best for Pregnant and Parenting Youth has been recognized nationally by the Center for the Study of Social Policy as an exemplary initiative to help vulnerable youth

Competent Kids, Caring Communities

Competent Kids, Caring Communities:
Bringing schools and families together to support children’s success
To learn more about Competent Kids, Caring Communities, visit the CKCC website:

What is Competent Kids, Caring Communities (CKCC)?
Competent Kids, Caring Communities (CKCC) is an exciting program that helps schools build a strong social and emotional support system for student learning. The program provides schools with two essential ingredients for academic success: tools to teach social emotional competencies and strategies to involve parents directly in their children’s learning.

CKCC’s Structure For Success

How does CKCC work with schools?
CKCC is a multi-level, evidence based intervention that complies with Response to Intervention (RTI) standards of high quality and cultural and linguistic responsiveness. It can be used as a primary preventive program, as well as an intervention technique at the secondary and tertiary levels. CKCC is flexible and can be adapted to your school’s needs.


Training programs are offered to enhance the capacity of therapists, agencies and school personnel to provide family centered, culturally sensitive and developmentally appropriate services.


Center for the Developing Child and Family
Martha Edwards, PhD, Founder and Director

Bright Beginnings/Personal Best Project Faculty
Martha Edwards, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator
Genoveva Garcia, LCSW
Yolanda Martinez MSW
Christine Reynolds LCSW
Barbara Russek, PsyD
Brenda Nikelsberg, LCSW

Competent Kids, Caring Communities Faculty
Zina Rutkin, PhD, Director
Fran Schwartz, PhD, LCSW

Children with Special Needs Project:
Judi Aronowitz, LCSW
Sara Goldsmith, NCSP
Elissa Kirtzman, LCSW
Tracy Ross, LCSW

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