Dr. Gerry Costa, Director of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health, will retire at the end of the year after a highly esteemed career. Dr. Costa joined Montclair State University in 2011. Before coming to Montclair State, Costa served as the founding director of the YCS Institute for Infant and Preschool Mental Health and was a past president of the New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health. The YCS Institute is the first clinical service for families with young children in the state, which continues to serve families with children from pregnancy through age 6 in the communities of Newark, East Orange and Irvington. In addition, Costa worked for more than 30 years to build capacity in the workforce to ensure and enhance the health and well-being of families at the earliest moments of their formation. He worked for over 30 years throughout New Jersey and across the country to build capacity in the workforce to ensure and enhance the health and well-being of families at the earliest moments of their formation.
On his retirement, Dr. Katrina Bulkley, Acting Dean of the College of Education and Human Services, noted: “We are so grateful to Dr. Costa for his many years of service along with his passion and dedication for helping children and infants. Through his tireless contributions, he built a strong foundation for the continued growth of programming and advocacy. We will miss him greatly as a colleague and wish him a wonderful retirement.”
Dr. Costa is known as one of the foremost experts on professional development in infant and early childhood mental health in the country. He has tirelessly and consistently advocated for babies and their caregivers, some of the most vulnerable of our community, especially focusing on those babies and young children who experience under-resourced conditions. He worked on the levels of the individual, family, community, national and international to advance policies and practices for the advancement of the field of infant and early childhood mental health. When at state and national level meetings, Dr. Costa can be relied on to be sure that policy and decision makers used the word ‘infant’ in their discourse, making the point over many years that only using the word ‘children’ allows us to be blind to the needs of infants when we have to ‘open our eyes’ to babies in order to appropriately support their needs. It is through this seemingly small but highly impactful advocacy, as well as 30 years of educating the workforce about the remarkable capacity of babies and the relationship with their caregivers, that Dr. Costa transformed beliefs, skills, and knowledge in countless numbers of policymakers to focus on relationships in the earliest years.
He had primary authorship on many important policy and procedural actions in New Jersey, including the NJ Department of Education Birth to Three Learning Standards, the NJ Department of Children and Families Prevention Plan, and NJ Medicaid’s approval of developmental approaches to autism treatment. Through his policy and advocacy efforts, Dr. Costa secured funds to disseminate the Pyramid Model for Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children, a model for early care and education professionals to support the social/emotional competence of the children in their classrooms and chaired a national workgroup aimed to intentionally determine the intersection of infant and early childhood mental health within Pyramid Model practices. Additionally, Dr. Costa advocated for Medicaid reimbursement for infant and early childhood mental health services in our state, for the expansion of publicly funded preschool programs, for increased funds for home visiting services, and for therapeutic nurseries in our local community.
He currently serves on the board of a county-based Court Appointed Special Advocates which oversees our state’s first ZTT Infant Toddler Court Team, and consulted with our Children in Courts Committee and other judicial-informing activities for over 15 years. As evidenced by these advocacy efforts, Dr. Costa has been the foremost voice for policy that supports the mental health of infants, toddlers, young children, and their families in our state, an advocacy that intimately impacts the work of our multidisciplinary professionals in the early childhood field.
Dr. Costa was one of the original founding members of the New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health (AIMH). He was also personally responsible for reviving our AIMH in 2012 with the purpose of embedding the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health Competency and Endorsement System in New Jersey. In both instances of the NJ-AIMH’s history, he used his relationships to gather a small group of people together and organized us towards action. He chaired the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health committee of the NJ Council for Young Children and was instrumental in securing funds to bring the Competencies and Endorsement system to our state. Within one year of his leadership in the revival of the NJ-AIMH, he secured the funding necessary to purchase the Competencies and Endorsement, and created a professional education program and state-wide access to reflective consultation that would allow for the capacity building necessary to support Endorsement in the workforce. He also allowed for the NJ-AIMH to have an administrative and operational base at his workplace without cost in order to allow for sustainability of the organization. Dr. Costa has been primarily responsible for the NJ-AIMH annual conference and has offered his expertise and his spirit to countless numbers of workshops, webinars, trainings, discussions, and conversations of the NJ-AIMH, again with the purpose of building and supporting the IECMH workforce in our state. Dr. Costa was one of the first three endorsed professionals in our state, and, in addition to raising awareness about Endorsement at the state and local level, served as an advisor, application reviewer, and exam reviewer in the first years of NJ’s endorsement process to ensure that we had a strong foundation of endorsed IECMH practitioners.
Dr. Costa is also the founder of two agencies in New Jersey with the mission of advancing infant and early childhood mental health clinical practice, workforce education, and policy advancement. The YCS Institute for Infant and Preschool Mental Health, the first clinical service for families with young children in our state, continues to serve families with children pregnancy through age 6 in the communities of Newark, East Orange, and Irvington, providing an option for an otherwise underserved community to have access to relationship-based services. At YCS, he advocated for New Jersey’s first Nurse Family Partnership model to begin and was instrumental in shaping the work at our state’s therapeutic nurseries. The Institute at YCS also has one of the few APA accredited doctoral internship sites in the country that focuses on clinical work with the under age 6 population.
Over 10 years ago, Dr. Costa founded the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health at Montclair State University (CAECMH). Under his direction, the CAECMH provided clinical services to infants, children, and families throughout the state through developmental and relational practice. The CAECMH is known as one of the only providers of developmental treatment approaches to autism in our state, and Dr. Costa is consistently referred to as the foremost expert in developmental, individual difference, and relationship-based approaches in New Jersey, nationally and internationally. At the CAECMH, Dr. Costa founded two graduate certificate programs – one in IECMH and the other in Developmental Models of Autism Intervention – to increase professionals’ knowledge and practice in these specialized fields. In addition, Dr. Costa mentored countless numbers of undergraduate and graduate trainees in IECMH clinical practice at both CAECMH and YCS, in addition to his involvement with the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning for the past 20 years.
Additionally, at the CAECMH, Dr. Costa advanced the model of professional formation (Costa and Mulcahy, 2016; Costa, 2021), which discusses workforce development as needing to integrate ways of knowing, doing, and being in all preparation and continuing education programs. Through this focus, Dr. Costa has disseminated multiple evidence-based state-wide professional formation activities across the state, including Brazelton Touchpoints, Circle of Security Parenting, Zippy’s Friends, and the Pyramid Model. Dr. Costa is also a master faculty member of the DC: 0-5 with Zero to Three, training many professionals in New Jersey and across the country and world in the DC: 0-5 system. He is the author of dozens of articles and chapters in edited volumes and has been a faculty member at five institutions of higher education. His signature contribution has been the creation of the original curriculum, Keeping Babies and Children in Mind, which is a 7-session, 21-hour curriculum aimed to raise the floor of knowledge in the infant/early childhood/family serving workforce about the impact of early experiences and the importance of relationships in the earliest years of life. KBCM pays particular attention to issues of equity and disproportionality in the effects of trauma and advances the first tenant of the Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work with Infants, Children, and Families as a central aspect of professional formation. KBCM was created after Dr. Costa swiftly coordinated a state-wide response to Superstorm Sandy’s destruction in our state in 2012, particularly focused on the impact on infants and young children. From this action, Dr. Costa secured funding from Superstorm Sandy relief funds to develop and disseminate KBCM across the state. To date, over 10,000 professionals have taken at least one workshop of KBCM, and it has become the foundation of workforce development for the multidisciplinary early relational health workforce in New Jersey. His work in disaster response also precipitated his chairing of the Northeast Terrorism and Disaster Coalition alongside Drs. Joy Osofsky and Howard Osofsky. This work exemplifies what we refer to as “Gerry’s magic”, which is his ability to bring together a wide coalition of professionals from all corners of the workforce to work collaboratively towards societal change, always keeping the baby, and their relationships, in mind.
Congratulations to Dr. Costa on a prolific career and his contributions to Montclair State University are greatly appreciated.