West Virginia Law Review

Document Type



The core argument of this paper— that listening from stance of curiosity to caregivers who interface with the child protection system holds the key to true protection by supporting child development—stands the test of time. Since its publication a decade ago, two significant changes have occurred. First the field of infant mental health is in the process of a reframing to the term “early relational health,” drawing on the abundance of research evidence showing how early relationships lay the foundation for lifelong growth and development. Second we are in the midst of a long overdue reckoning with social injustice. Principles of early relational health that draw on the lessons from infant-caregiver relationships can inform our approach to this reckoning. Infant and caregiver represent the prototype of two people getting to know each other. As they work through countless moments of missed cues and miscommunication, their sense of trust grows. Repair of these inevitable mismatches provide the fuel for both intimacy and resilience. Suspending certainty about another person’s motivations and intentions opens a path for that person to feel truly seen, heard, and understood. This core lesson from infants and caregivers can inform an approach to people both alike and different. Listening to one another from a stance of “not-knowing” offers opportunity, both as individuals and as a society as a whole, to heal and grow.

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