Early Childhood Education

Yale University Child Study Center (1911-2005)

 

The history of child development as a scientific field of study is a story of the twentieth century. Although a few notable pioneers made isolated contributions to the beginnings of this field as early as the mid-nineteenth century, it did not really coalesce as an investigative science until well after the turn of the century. And the Yale Child Study Center stands as one of the few institutions—and the only one in a major university and school of medicine—that has been a major source of leadership in the field from the outset to the present. This achievement has several important roots—the position of the Center in a research university, the support of many Presidents and Deans, the devotion of faculty, and the prescience of the senior leadership. An important component has been the capacity for long-term planning and program development that has resulted from the dedication of senior faculty, who have devoted their careers to the Center, and the continuity of senior leadership. In the ninety-four years of its existence, from 1911 to 2005 the Center has had only five directors, each of whom has helped guide the Center during distinctive epochs in the fields of child development and child and adolescent psychiatry.

Founded in 1911 by Arnold Gesell, M.D., the Yale Child Study Center was the first academic department of its kind in the world to be devoted exclusively to the scientific study of children’s development. Dr. Gesell pioneered the field of child development at the Yale University Clinic of Child Development. Dr. Gesell devoted his career to the study and documentation of normal and deviant behavior and the application of principles from developmental psychology to the field of pediatrics. In 1948, the Child Study Center was established as an autonomous department within Yale University and the School of Medicine, and under the leadership of Dr. Milton Senn, expanded its role as a center of excellence in research and clinical care. Dr. Albert J. Solnit became the director of the Center in 1967, and was instrumental in further broadening the scope of clinical and research programs. An emphasis continued on early development in infants and young children, serious developmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, and on psychosocial influences affecting the process of development. Programs for disadvantaged children, early educational intervention, crisis intervention, child psychoanalysis, and neuroscience were developed and expanded. Programs of collaboration with other university departments and with state and social service agencies were established. In 1983, Dr. Donald J. Cohen was appointed director and continued the tradition of leadership by researchers and clinicians grounded in child psychiatry, developmental psychology, and developmental pediatrics. In 2002, Dr. Alan Kazdin, as director and building on the well-established research tradition, facilitated an active scholarship on evidence-based treatments and developing innovative psychiatric treatment models for children and adolescents and rigorous empirical evaluation of those models.

The Center continues to maintain major commitments to clinical research in the fields of child development, early childhood education, social policy, child psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and developmental neurobiology. The range of clinical investigative approaches within the Center includes developmental psychology, neurochemistry and neurobiology, genetics, clinical pharmacology, and neuroimaging. In addition, the Center continues its commitment to developing innovative psychiatric treatments for young children and families from infancy through adolescence. The breadth of interest and number of disciplines represented makes for a multidisciplinary scholarly environment well suited to training young investigators and for enhancing collaborative research among midcareer and senior investigators within the department and with faculty in other departments.

Linda C. Mayes