Objective: To review critically the research on infant developmental risk published in the past 10 years.
Method: A brief framework on development in the first 3 years is provided. This is followed by a review of pertinent studies of developmental risk, chosen to illustrate major risk conditions and the protective factors known to affect infant development. Illustrative risk conditions include prematurity and serious medical illness and infant temperament, infant-caregiver attachment, parental psychopathology, marital quality and interactions, poverty and social class, adolescent parenthood, and family violence.
Results: Risk and protective factors interact complexly. There are few examples of specific or linear links between risk conditions and outcomes during or beyond the first 3 years of life. Infant development is best appreciated within the context of caregiving relationships, which mediate the effects of both intrinsic and extrinsic risk conditions.
Conclusions: Complex and evolving interrelationships among risk factors are beginning to be elucidated. Linear models of cause and effect are of little use in understanding the development of psychopathology. Refining our markers of risk and demonstrating effective preventive interventions are the next important challenges.