Category Archives: Institute for Translational Research

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 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 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

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 Learn more about the clinic at