Category Archives: Institute for Translational Research

2017 ITR Seed Grants Announced

We are excited to announce the recipients of the 2017 Collaborative Seed Grant Program. These grants — $20,000 or less with a one-year time frame — support small research projects that advance the use of evidence-based practices in addressing pressing issues for children’s mental health. Each project partners with community organizations in Minnesota.  The goal of the program is to kickstart innovative ideas that have a likely chance of becoming larger, sustained research projects with external funding to improve mental health outcomes among Minnesota’s children.

Our mission at the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR) is to advance quality research, train practitioners in evidence-based practices, and disseminate information to help bridge the gap between research and practice in our field.

Mindfulness Training for Juvenile Diversion Youth

Community Principal Investigator: Hal Pickett, Director of Client Services, Headway Emotional Health Services

ITR Principal Investigator: Timothy Piehler, Assistant Professor, UMN Department of Family Social Science

This exciting project aims to reduce conduct disorder among adolescents in juvenile justice diversion programs. The study seeks to adapt a mindfulness-focused intervention called Learning to Breathe for this audience in order to improve adolescent self control. The project will use an experimental design known as a “microtrial” to gauge specific effects of the intervention, which could be a precursor to a full randomized control trial.

Excerpt from the abstract:

“Juvenile diversion programs serve as an important gateway in identifying youth at high risk for escalations in conduct problems. However, the vast majority of diversion programming currently being provided is not evidence-based, in part because there are few evidence-based programs developed specifically for this population and setting…The proposed research seeks to innovate conduct disorder prevention in the context of juvenile diversion through several strategies…The proposed microtrial will evaluate the ability of mindfulness-based skills training to impact self-control within an adolescent diversion population. …

The proposed research project represents a collaboration between a University of Minnesota research team and Headway Emotional Health Services, a community mental health agency that provides pre-court juvenile diversion services for youth offenders. The study will involve a randomized trial investigating an evidence-based mindfulness intervention (Learning to Breathe; LTB) for juvenile diversion-referred youth.”

Read the full abstract here.

Foundational Research for a Parenting Mobile App with Biofeedback for Latine Parents

Community Principal Investigator: Roxana Linares, Executive Director, Centro Tyrone Guzman and Veronica Svetaz, Medical Director, Aqui Para Ti

ITR Principal Investigator: Jennifer Doty, Postdoctoral Fellow, UMN Department of Pediatrics

This project will build and test a mobile app version of Padres Informados, a skills-based parenting intervention for Latine immigrants. The work will lay the groundwork for a robust app that includes wearable technology to provide biofeedback to parents as they go through the program.

Excerpt from the abstract:

“The long-term goal of this research is to reduce depression, anxiety, and substance use among Latino adolescents through a mobile application with parenting content and personal biofeedback. The goal of this proposal is to build and test a baseline mobile application with a skills-based parenting curriculum for Latine immigrants, Padres Informados. …

The first aim is to build the baseline application and test the prototype that has already been developed in interviews with 20-30 parents who completed an earlier survey. … The second aim is to assess the functionality of the baseline mobile app and the acceptability of using a wearable.

The mobile app will have the potential of increasing community accessibility to evidence-based parenting programs and enhancing existing delivery of the program by providing mobile supplementary information and goal tracking capabilities.”

Read the full abstract here.

Ambit Network Fall Conference: The importance of parenting in highly stressed children and families

A growing body of research has shown how working with parents can improve mental health outcomes for children exposed to traumatic stress, and an upcoming half-day conference from the University of Minnesota’s Ambit Network and Center for Resilient Families will highlight cutting edge work in this field. Reserve your spot at z.umn.edu/parenting.

The conference will take place the morning of Friday, Sept. 15, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Titled The importance of parenting in highly stressed children and families, it will feature keynote presenter Dr. Marion Forgatch, a key developer of Parent Management Training – the Oregon Model (PMTO), a landmark evidence-based prevention intervention that has been implemented around the world. Center for Resilient Families Director Abi Gewirtz and clinical psychologist Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya will also present.

Dr. Forgatch and her life partner, Minnesota-native Dr. Gerald Patterson, developed PMTO based on analysis of thousands of hours of footage documenting parent-child interactions to understand what leads children astray. PMTO is based on 40 years of research and has been shared with more than 50,000 families from all socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, and family types throughout the world. It has been adapted by other researchers to serve more specific audiences, including military parents, Latinx immigrants, and parents of traumatized children. Dr. Forgatch is Senior Scientist Emerita at Oregon Social Learning Center and founder of Implementation Sciences International, Inc.

Dr. Abi Gewirtz, director of both Ambit Network and Center for Resilient Families, is one of the many researchers influenced by PMTO and is the lead developer of After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools, a PMTO-based prevention intervention for military families. Dr. Gewirtz will present on her use of mindfulness research in parenting prevention interventions.

Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, a licensed clinical psychologist and Executive Director of the African American Child Wellness Institute, will present on an innovative culturally-specific parenting program she is involved in. The program, called Project Murua:  A Pre-meditated Parenting Boot Camp, is a 10-week intensive Afrocentric violence prevention and wellness promotion parent education and training program.

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper and Minnesota House Representative for District 60B, Ilhan Omar, will make opening remarks.

The conference will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Hyundai Club room at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Accessible parking is available near the stadium. Refreshments will be served and an optional stadium tour will take place afterward. The registration fee is $25 and space is limited – reserve your spot today at z.umn.edu/parenting

The conference is part of the Center for Resilient Families’ mission to implement parent-focused interventions and raise awareness about the importance of parenting in children’s mental health. Both the Center for Resilient Families and the Ambit Network are part of the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health at the University of Minnesota. Learn more at http://itr.umn.edu.

Announcing ITR summer fellowship recipients

The Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR) is pleased to announce the recipients of our 2017 Translational Summer Research Fellowships. The four (corrected from an earlier e-mail, which stated three) fellowships help graduate students pursue collaborative research projects involving the development or expansion of evidence-based prevention or treatment interventions in children’s mental health.

The fellowship program supports ITR’s mission to bridge the vast gap between research and practice in children’s mental health. The range of the four projects reflects ITR’s commitment to bringing together researchers from across disciplines to solve problems.

One project will look at the effects of the “Early Risers” intervention on homeless families and identify which family characteristics predict differential responses. In another researchers will examine parents’ cognitive emotion regulation and its impact on child functioning. Using data from the military-parent-focused ADAPT intervention, one fellow will examine how parents’ inhibitory control might boost or lessen benefit from the intervention. A fourth project will investigate how treatments for major depressive disorder affect brain circuits.

Parenting trajectories of homeless parents in Early Risers intervention
Student: Sun-Kyung Lee | ITR faculty advisor: Timothy Piehler

Background: Homeless parents’ life stressors include negative parenting and high risk of exposure to child maltreatment, violence, mental illness and substance use (Gewirtz, Hart-Shegos, & Medhanie, 2008). The behavioral and emotional problems of children in homeless families are greater than children with low socioeconomic status and those in permanently housed communities (Lee et al, 2010). The purpose of this study is to examine intervention effect and identify what family characteristics predict differential responses to the parenting practices outcome in a preventive intervention. (Full proposal)

Parent self-regulation, parenting quality, and child behavioral outcomes in homeless families
Student: Alyssa Palmer | ITR faculty advisor: Daniel Berry

Background: The goals of the proposed project are to determine (1) whether parent adversity is related to parent cognitive emotion regulation and parenting quality in families experiencing homelessness, (2) whether parent cognitive emotion regulation moderates the relationships between adversity and observed parenting quality, and (3) whether the aforementioned associations impact child functioning in addition to the predicted direct influences of parent emotion regulation. This project involves secondary data analysis and behavioral coding of parent child interactions. The sample includes 105 caregivers and their 4- to 7- year old children who were recruited over a summer from two urban homeless shelters for a study on parenting and school readiness. (Full proposal)

Effects of a military parenting program: Inhibitory control as moderator
Student: Jingchen Zhang. ITR faculty advisor: Abi Gewirtz

Background: The goal of this study is to examine how parents’ inhibitory control might boost or lessen benefit from a military parenting program. Children in military families in which a parent has been deployed may be at increased risk of depression, anxiety and externalizing behavior problems (Chartrand, Frank, White, & Shope, 2008). After Deployment, Adaptive Parenting Tools (ADAPT; PI: Abigail Gewirtz) is a parent training program tailored to the specific needs of military families whose goal is to enhance effective parenting practices, thus reducing children’s adjustment problems (Gewirtz, & Davis, 2014). (Full proposal)

Pre-post medication brain functional network changes in adolescent MDD
Student: Shu-Hsien Chu. ITR faculty advisor: Bonnie Klimes-Dougan

Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a serious illness that occurs in 11% of adolescents (Avenevoli, Swendsen, He et aI JAACAP, 2015) and is associated with tragic outcomes including chronic adult disability and suicide. While some evidence-based treatments are available such as antidepressant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, these interventions are only successful in reducing depression in about half to two-thirds of cases. Research is urgently needed to better understand the biological roots of adolescent depression and to develop improved treatments. This project will explore functional network changes exerted by currently-standard treatments. (Full proposal)

Ambit Network releases simple, accurate trauma screening tool

The Ambit Network works to improve access to quality care for traumatized children by giving practitioners the skills and resources they need to address mental health issues with evidence-based practices.

One of the common requests Ambit receives from practitioners is a tool to quickly and accurately screen children for possible child trauma. With that in mind, Ambit developed and released the University of Minnesota Traumatic Stress Screen for Children and Adolescents (TSSCA) that:

  • Has high sensitivity (it screens in those children and youth with trauma symptoms)
  • Has high specificity (it screens out those children and youth who do not have trauma symptoms)
  • Is brief and easily administered by professionals and paraprofessionals in child serving systems.

The screening tool is already in use at agencies within and outside Minnesota. It is available to clinicians, case workers, educators, and any other staff who work with children ages 5 to 18 that may have experienced a traumatic event and are in need of services. Learn more and download the tool here.

An extensive review of existing trauma instruments went into developing the tool, combining common criteria and distilling down into the five most powerful and predictive items. For more information on the methodology behind the tool, contact ITR’s Chris Bray at bray0021@umn.edu or (612) 624-3748.

Ambit Network is housed within CEHD’s Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health, one of the several ways ITR is working to bridge the gap between research and practice in children’s mental health.

Hear about cutting edge research in ITR’s Colloquium Series

Series kicks off Feb. 7 with discussion of retaining and engaging enrolled families

As part of ITR’s mission to connect leaders in the field of children’s mental health, we are excited to announce our 2017 Colloquia Series, featuring three discussions on new research from ITR faculty. Space is limited, so reserve your spot early — e-mail ITR@umn.edu to RSVP.

Feb. 7 – Project INTERFACE: Promoting Parent Engagement in Parent Education Programs | 3:30-5 p.m., ITR offices
Dr. Richard M. Lee and Dr. Alisha Wackerle-Hollman
 
Problems in engaging and retaining enrolled families is a significant barrier to reaping the effects of evidence-based parenting interventions. Studies show modest rates of enrollment and retention in evidence-based parent training particularly among racial/ethnic minority families.  We will describe our work to develop and test a brief group-based engagement and retention priming module for families from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds.

The work was funded by a seed grant from ITR in 2015.

About Dr. Lee: Rich’s research interests are in understanding the psychological aspects of culture, ethnicity and race that function as risk and protective factors for well-being, mental health, and achievement in ethnic and racial minority populations. Dr. Lee has received NIH, NSF, and foundation funding to support his research.(Full bio)

About Dr. Alisha Wackerle-Hollman: Dr. Wackerle-Hollman is an educational psychologist with a passion for engaging communities and young children to improve child and family outcomes. Alisha’s interest focuses on two primary strands of research: a clinical foci on parenting education and development and an applied foci centralized around early childhood assessment and intervention.(Full bio)

March 27 – Personalizing Treatment for Adolescent Depression: Challenges and Opportunities | 3:30-5 p.m., ITR offices
Dr. Meredith Gunlicks-Stoessel

There are now a number of evidence-based interventions for adolescent depression; however, many adolescents who receive one of these interventions do not respond. There is increasing recognition that treating depression more effectively requires taking into account individual differences and providing adolescents with treatment that is optimally matched and adapted over time to their individual characteristics, needs, and circumstances. In this presentation, I will discuss our work developing and evaluating personalized interventions for adolescent depression.

About Dr. Meredith Gunlicks-Stoessel: Meredith’s research focuses on the development and evaluation of interventions for adolescent depression. She has a particular interest in the development of adaptive interventions, which provide clinical guidelines for selecting, combining, and sequencing interventions to personalize the intervention approach. (Full bio)

May 2 – An alternative model of personalized interventions: Findings from an adoption study | 3:30-5p.m., ITR offices
Dr. Leslie Leve

It is widely known that parents play a crucial role in their child’s development, ranging from the disciplinary practices they engage in, to the quality of their own interparental relationship, to the educational context they provide. However, there is increasing evidence that genetic influences play a role in these associations, sometimes via their moderating role in increasing or decreasing children’s susceptibility to these environmental experiences, and other times because they shape the types of environments that children are exposed to.

This presentation focuses on the interplay between inherited and environmental influences on child development by describing findings from an adoption study where children were reared from birth by unrelated caregivers. The relevance of children’s inherited predispositions in the design and delivery of preventive interventions will also be discussed.

Dr. Leslie Leve is a developmental psychologist who has used natural experimental designs to examine the interplay between social and inherited influences on child and adolescent development. This includes adoption studies where children have been reared by unrelated caregivers, intervention studies with children in foster care, and studies of siblings who have been reared apart since birth. Leslie is the Associate Director of the Prevention Science Institute and the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Education at the University of Oregon. She currently serves as President-Elect of the Society for Prevention Research. Her research is currently funded by NIH and IES. 

Center for Resilient Families featured in MinnPost

A recent MinnPost feature story highlights the Center for Resilient Families, a new national center housed at ITR aimed at raising awareness of, and increasing access to, family interventions that promote resilience in traumatized children.

From the article:

Kids do well when their parents do well.

Thanks to a new $3 million, five–year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the University of Minnesota’s new Center for Resilient Families will work to shore up the health of traumatized families nationwide through the promotion of parenting interventions that have been found through rigorous testing to be effective at strengthening resilience.

While the theory that strong parents create strong families has been accepted for years, much attention of late has been centered on creating services that focus on the unique needs of children in at-risk environments.

That’s important, said Center for Resilient Families Project Director Abi Gewirtz, Ph.D., professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Family Social Science and Institute of Child Development, but it’s also important to dig deeper, to help support families from the ground up by supporting the emotional health of parents.

“Too often, we tend to treat the kid that’s experienced trauma alone instead of treating the whole family,” Gewirtz said. “With this new center, we are focused on improving mental health for traumatized families by improving parents’ parenting skills.”

Read the full article here.

Development and Psychopathology Special Section from ITR 2015 symposium in print

A Special section in Development and Psychopathology, 28 (4 part 2), 2016, dedicated to topics presented at the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR)’s Inaugural Symposium entitled “Epigenetics: Development, Psychopathology, Resilience and Preventive Intervention,” was recently published by Cambridge University Press.

The three-day symposium in May 2015 focused on epigenetics, the study of how DNA methylation affects gene expression and mental and physical health. The symposium featured leading researchers investigating topics ranging from the way experiences of parents can impact DNA methylation to how child maltreatment can affect how genes are expressed and lead to mental and physical health risks. Each presenter contributed an article to this Special Section of the Journal.

The 2015 symposium was the brainchild of ITR’s Director of Research, Dante Cicchetti. Dr. Cicchetti is a pioneer in the field of developmental psychopathology and is the founding and current editor of Development and Psychopathology. He is recognized by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as one of their top grantees, achieving an award rate in the 95th percentile for the past 25 years, and has published over 475 articles, books, and journal special issues. His research spans developmental psychopathology, child maltreatment, developmental neuroscience, gene-environment interactions, epigenetics, mood disorders, personality disorders, and multilevel Randomized Control Trial (RCT) preventive interventions to inform developmental theory.

Direction of the symposium rotates each year among ITR’s three core faculty. Our second annual symposium this fall was initiated by ITR Director of Training & Education, Dr. Gerry August, and focused on precision care; the 2017 event will be directed by ITR Director, Dr. Abi Gewirtz. Highlighting cutting edge research and connecting leading researchers and practitioners is one of the many ways ITR works to bridge the vast gap between research and practice in children’s mental health.

See the full list of articles in this Special Section here.

ITR’s Dr. Gerry August part of UMN Grand Challenge-winning team

Dr. Gerry August, one of the Institute for Tranlsational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR)’s three core faculty members, was part of a cross-discipline team of researchers recently awarded one of the University of Minnesota’s coveted Grand Challenge grants.

The collaborative team of researchers — known as the Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative (MPMC) — will explore how new technologies can better tailor health care to the needs of individual patients. Applying precision-based health care techniques to address children’s mental health issues is one of Dr. August’s specialties; in October he directed the second-annual ITR symposium that focused on personalized, precision-based care.

The Grand Challenges research program is a key part of the University’s Strategic Plan vision to address critical challenges to Minnesota and the world. The University is investing $3.6 million to fund a slate of faculty research collaborations aimed at five research priorities:

  • Advancing health through tailored solutions
  • Feeding the world sustainably
  • Assuring clean water and sustainable ecosystems
  • Fostering just and equitable communities
  • Engaging individual and community capacity for a changing world.

ITR is committed to address the gap between research and practice in children’s mental health and uses an interdisciplinary, team-based setup to support researchers from many background and cultivates new ways of approaching problems.

From the project description:

Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative: Transforming health and advancing equity 

The Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative (MPMC) is a transformative initiative to use 21st century technologies – including genomics, informatics, bioengineering, analysis of environmental exposures, and behavioral sciences – to tailor health care to the challenges facing individuals and their communities. This ambitious approach will fundamentally alter our understanding of health, disease prevention, and treatment. Core to this project is partnering across the state of Minnesota with citizens, patients, and healthcare providers to understand and effectively address major health problems.

MPMC will create a living laboratory, starting with demonstration projects on Alzheimer’s disease, lung cancer, and depression. All three are diseases whose incidence, burden, and mortality rates reveal disturbing health disparities. This focus will enable us to leverage University of Minnesota research strengths across many disciplines and to engage with partners in the health industry and Minnesota’s underserved communities. Together we will create affordable, mobile tools to speed research, better deliver health information, and advance health for all. [Full description]

Read more about the Grand Challenges award winners here. Learn more about ITR’s work at http://itr.umn.edu.

ITR’s Dr. Abi Gewirtz involved with new book on parenting and military deployment

Since 9/11, more than 1 million parents have been deployed to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. For those parents, the difference between parenting before deployment and after returning home is stark — and not well studied

A new book co-edited by Dr. Abigail Gewirtz, Institute Director at ITR, examines crucial questions around parenting and military deployment in the 21st Century. Parenting and Children’s Resilience in Military Families, edited by Gewirtz and Adriana M. Youssef, explores questions like:

“How does deployment influence parenting? How is parenting of the at-home caregiver affected by the absence of the deployed parent? How might effective parenting at different child developmental stages mitigate children’s worries and fears about their deployed parent and promote healthy adjustment? How might the experience of motherhood be changed by military service in general and deployment in particular? How are deployed fathers influential for their children’s development and adjustment, and how can they be supported in these efforts? And, how might military parents transmit military cultural values, such as service, to their children?”

Gewirtz in a nationally recognized leader in research on trauma, resilience, parenting, and promoting children’s healthy development. Among her major research projects is the After Deployment, Adaptive Parenting Tools (ADAPT) program, which develops tools to support parenting and resilience among military families coping with the stress of deployment and reintegration.

ITR’s affiliated clinic thrives in first six months

Affiliation provides mental health services for families and hands-on training for students

This summer we at the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR) announced an exciting affiliation between ITR, the University of Minnesota and the Family Innovations Counseling and Training Center.

In its first half-year the clinic has provided hundreds of hours of service based on evidence-based interventions to Twin Cities families. Through our affiliation, the clinic has also provided hands-on training for students preparing for a career in mental health, helping reach our goals of translating discoveries in children’s mental health research into practice and providing training in evidence-based practices that students often have difficulty finding for their practicum experience.

The clinic leases space within ITR’s office building located near downtown Minneapolis, offering convenient access to the families it serves. It is one of 11 Family Innovations outpatient clinics in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

To learn more about our work to bridge the gap between research and practice in children’s mental health, visit itr.umn.edu. Learn more about the clinic at familyinnovations.com.