Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology

Early Mental Health Foundations: A Scoping Review of Reflective Functioning in Caregiver–Child Dyads


Department of Psychiatry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada


University of Toronto, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, Toronto, Canada


University of Alberta, School of Public Health, Edmonton, Canada


University of Alberta, Faculty of Education, Edmonton, Canada


Department of Psychiatry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch, Edmonton Alberta, Canada


JW Scott Health Sciences Library, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada


Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch, Edmonton Alberta, Canada

Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology 2023; 33: 58-69
DOI: 10.5152/pcp.2023.22549
Read: 884 Downloads: 410 Published: 01 March 2023

Background: International public health strategies indicate a need for equitable resources for wellness in younger children and their caregivers. Reflective functioning, a proxy for emotional regulation abilities, is a key area in this domain. As an emerging area, reflective functioning has not been mapped comprehensively and requires systematic investigation. This review examines “what qualitative and quantitative evidence is there for the value of reflective functioning assessment and intervention studies in caregiver–child dyads?”

Methods: This scoping review focused on data published to September 2021, focusing on caregivers of children ≤36 months of age (including Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, ERIC, Scopus, Web of Science, and Embase). Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews guidelines were followed.

Results: From 5162 initial articles, 608 papers were screened for full text yielding a final 181 papers. Only 69 studies included multiple ethnicities. Seven of the 69 studies included at least 1 Indigenous person. No studies were conducted in low- to middle-income countries, and no studies reported data on gender identity.

Conclusion: This review comprises a novel and comprehensive mapping of the reflective functioning literature in terms of both assessment and intervention studies. The present mapping of the reflective functioning literature indicates the importance of health disparities in caregiver–child dyads (these include gaps and needs for future research). In relation to gaps, studies of adverse childhood experience, consideration of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and global mental health are underrepresented. Future research is needed to provide information on the relevance of gender identity and low- to middle-income countries in relation to the impact on reflective functioning in this context.

Cite this article as: Jin J, Goud R, Al-Shamali H, et al. Early mental health foundations: A scoping review of reflective functioning in caregiver–child dyads. Psychiatry Clin Psychopharmacol. 2023;33(1):58-69.

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