A new study led by Institute of Child Development professor Arthur Reynolds suggests people who experience four or more traumatic events, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), are significantly less likely to graduate from high school, which is a leading indicator of lifelong health. The study in the April 2016 issue of Pediatrics, “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Well-Being in a Low-Income, Urban Cohort,” followed 1,202 economically disadvantaged, minority participants who attended kindergarten in Chicago Public Schools and responded to periodic surveys about family and school experiences throughout childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood.
ACEs that participants were asked about included whether they had been a victim of violent crime; had witnessed a shooting or stabbing; experienced the death of a family member, friend, or relative; or had frequent family conflict, prolonged absence or divorce of their parents, or substance abuse by a parent. In addition to education level, these experiences also affected occupational prestige, criminal activity, health-compromising behaviors, and mental health by the time participants reached age 26.
Reynolds said the study, funded with National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Science Foundation grants, showed that the harmful effect of ACEs extend above and beyond socio-economic status. Early childhood programs can buffer the negative effects of early, traumatic experiences and should be more widely available, he added.
Department of Family Social Science associate Professor Joyce Serido teamed up with Extension educators across the state to create a pilot program that helps students and families make better choices about financing higher education.
The program began in January, and Serido will meet with Extension educators in February to fine tune the program to make it accessible to various groups statewide.
When she made a last-minute decision to abandon a scholarship from a sociology Ph.D. program and enroll instead in the University of Minnesota’s master’s of social work (M.S.W.) program, Katy Armendariz had no idea that would be her first step toward fulfilling a lifelong dream of serving children and families.
Katy is an international adoptee and former foster child who knows the child welfare system from personal experience. She received her M.S.W. from the University of Minnesota in 2009. In 2013, she started MN CarePartner, a mental health agency to bring psychotherapy services into the homes of people who could not make it to a clinic due to physical, mental, financial or transportation barriers.
The agency started out small, with just two part-time therapists. By August of 2015, it had six therapists and a certificate from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to provide Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS). CTSS is an in-home rehabilitative service that teaches children and families the necessary skills to manage the symptoms of a child’s mental health condition and bring the child back to a normal developmental trajectory.
Then, last spring, Katy and Laura Skoglund, owner of Families in Transition Services (FiTS), had a conversation over coffee. Laura has a degree in social work and paralegal studies, with a strong advocacy background in domestic violence and sexual assault. When she took over Families in Transition in January of 2012, she found a niche serving families through supervised visitation and parenting skills.
Laura, who grew up in a home where domestic violence and chemical dependency were prevalent, saw FiTS as an opportunity to help families in similar situations. FiTS provides supervised visitation for child protection families requiring oversight throughout the process of permanency and reunification, as well as family law cases. Laura saw that children’s acting-out behaviors often increased before and/or after visits with their parents, and she saw a need for in-home skills and therapy to smooth the transitions. Katy wanted the services her agency provided to help disadvantaged families who have a hard time parenting due to psychosocial barriers, such as the homelessness and mental illness that prevented her own birth mother from being able to parent.
It was a perfect match and happened to coincide with the release of 93 recommendations by the Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children, which had examined the Minnesota child welfare system. It concluded that the system could not improve without additional resources, training and workforce. Katy and Laura quickly realized that their partnership could help child welfare providers meet several of the task force recommendations about providing more seamless services to children and families.
Together, FiTS and MN CarePartner offers supervised visitation in the home, CTSS services and in-home psychotherapy. In order to reduce the number of providers coming into a family’s home, the two agencies work together to hire people who can provide more than one kind of service. The person supervising the visit is often the same person who teaches CTSS and parenting skills between visits. The CTSS skills worker is supervised by the in-home therapist, ensuring complementary treatment plans and a quality coordinated-care team for each family.
FiTS and MN CarePartner reached out to several child protection units in several counties, and had 16 partnerships set up in 10 counties by the end of August. The response to the partnership has been extremely positive, and child protection workers have reported that they feel at ease knowing that a committed team is in the home working for the empowerment and self-determination of children and families. Additionally, MN CarePartner and FiTS actively recruit staff of color, as well as bilingual staff, to address the cultural disparities that have made it difficult for far too many families to connect with their service providers and have a fair shot at reunification.
In November, Katy will receive an Outstanding Service Award from the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health for showing extraordinary leadership in the field.
On September 4, 2015, the Department of Educational Psychology hosted Drs. Douglas & Lynn Fuchs to present their work and insights on addressing learning disabilities in the classroom. Their talk, Is There a Role for Cognitive Processes in Academic Intervention?, addressed the issues of student learners and the necessity for researchers to modify interventions based on students’ ability to learn.
Dr. Douglas Fuchs’s research area focuses on the instruction of students at risk for school failure because of disability or poverty, peer-mediated learning, classroom assessment, school improvement and reform, urban education and special education policy.
Dr. Lynn Fuchs’s research area focuses on the instructional practice and assessment of student progress for students at risk for or with reading disabilities and mathematics disabilities.
Jason Wolff, assistant professor in the special education program in the Department of Educational Psychology, was recently featured in an article by Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI). The article, “Thick bridge of nerves may signal autism in infancy,” highlights Wolff’s study published in Brain in May. His research findings suggest that the bundle of nerves that bridges the brain’s two hemispheres is abnormally thick in infants later diagnosed with autism.
“I think it drives home to us how important it is to think about how much the brain changes throughout life,” Wolff told SFARI.
It is the first formal study of the use of gratitude in alcoholism treatment. Krentzman said she conducted the study after discovering that positive psychology interventions had not been tested among individuals with substance use disorders, even though they are commonly used in recovery programs.
“I thought a gratitude practice would be perfect as the first positive psychology intervention to test among individuals with addictions because gratitude is a naturally occurring theme in addiction recovery. For example, it is a regularly occurring theme in Alcoholics Anonymous literature,” Krentzman said.
The gratitude exercise, “Three Good Things,” asks participants to write about three positive things that happened in a day and why they happened. Krentzman said that her study will serve as a pilot program for further study about the impact of using “Three Good Things” in substance use disorder treatment programs and in post-treatment recovery organizations, such as sober living houses.
“I study addiction recovery and the factors that make the experience of recovery positive and reinforcing, which is a hedge against relapse,” Krentzman said. “Positive psychology is an excellent framework for my research.”
Amelia Franck Meyer (M.S.W. ’01), CEO of Anu Family Services, was named an Ashoka Fellow, joining a network of over 3,000 of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs.
Ashoka Fellows are chosen for having innovative solutions to social problems and the potential to change patterns across society. They demonstrate unrivaled commitment to bold new ideas and prove that compassion, creativity, and collaboration are tremendous forces for change.
Franck Meyer has been CEO of Anu Family Services since 2001 and has built an award winning organization that is achieving nationally leading outcomes in finding permanence for children in out-of-home care. Last year, she shared her message and expertise with system leaders, legislators, front line staff, educators, and students across Minnesota, Wisconsin and 15 other states. Being an Ashoka Fellow will give her an opportunity to build on this growing momentum and desire for much needed systems change across the country.
Ashoka is the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, with nearly 3,000 Ashoka Fellows in 70 countries putting their system changing ideas into practice on a global scale. Founded by Bill Drayton in 1980, Ashoka has provided start-up financing, professional support services, and connections to a global network across the business and social sectors, and a platform for people dedicated to changing the world. For more information, see the Ashoka website.
Students participated in presentations and professional development and listened to several keynote speakers. The students and their advisor, Dr. Marguerite Ohrtman, gave five presentations on a number of topics, including: technology, school counselor and parent engagement with technology, immigrant students, aromatherapy, and students in the military.
Erik Van Iterson, a doctoral candidate under the mentorship of assistant professor EricSnyder, Ph.D., has received the prestigious Best in Abstracts Scholarship award from the American Thoracic Society.
He will attend and present three oral presentations based on work conducted in Dr. Snyder’s Clinical Exercise Physiology Laboratory at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in Denver, CO, this spring.
“When kids drop out of high school their employment opportunities decrease dramatically, their income opportunities decrease dramatically,” said Rodriguez, who has studied the phenomenon. “They’re less likely to engage in good health, and then they become parents and then those children grow up in high poverty.”
“Not only does that hurt individuals, it’s a drag on the entire state economy,” he said.
“To my knowledge, the manner in which we have written this textbook is unique within undergraduate education,” Mendenhall explained. “And it’s also the first time I’ve ever heard students tell me they love our book. ”
“You don’t have to be rich to cope with financial stress,” she explained in a CEHD Vision2020 article. “Coping with financial stress starts with an understanding that the decisions we make may have financial implications. Adults and young people alike often fail to recognize those implications—and the consequence is increased financial pressure.”
To identify the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability among 8-year-old children in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI) has been awarded a four-year, $450,000 annual grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The work is part of the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.
“We’re honored to join a network that is increasing knowledge about the population of children with ASD and other developmental disabilities in this country, comparing how common ASD is in different areas of the country and understanding the impact of ASD and related conditions in U.S. communities,” said Dr. Amy Hewitt, a U of M researcher and director of the project at ICI. “This project will also help us better understand differences in prevalence among immigrant and diverse populations in Hennepin and Ramsey counties; knowing this can help Minnesota better plan for services.”
This project builds on earlier ICI work that estimated the prevalence of ASD among Somali and non-Somali children in Minneapolis, which was the largest project to date to look at the number and characteristics of Somali children with ASD in any U.S. community. The findings of that project, released in 2014, showed notable differences in ASD prevalence and co-occurring conditions, such as intellectual disability, between children from different ethnic groups. This new project will look more closely at some of those differences among children in the broader two-county area.
The new project, titled Minnesota Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability Project, began earlier this month, and will use the CDC’s ADDM Network methods to do the following:
Estimate the prevalence of 8-year-olds with ASD and 8-year-olds with intellectual disabilities in the two counties, and identify other characteristics of those children, such as ethnicity and co-occurring conditions.
Identify disparities in prevalence, characteristics and age of diagnosis across demographic groups, including two large racial/ethnic groups unique to the area – Somali and Hmong children.
Involve leaders in Somali, Hmong and other communities in design of the research, sharing of information and use of the project data to improve services for children with ASD and intellectual disabilities in their communities.
The findings of this work will be of use to policymakers, service providers and researchers in Minnesota and across the county by contributing to increased understanding of ASD and other developmental disabilities in different populations within the U.S., and providing data to help decrease disparities in ASD service delivery and age of diagnosis across groups.
The University of Minnesota joins Vanderbilt University as the two new sites for ADDM Network tracking. In all, 10 sites across the U.S. are part of the network. Learn more.
Ataxia is a neurological disease affecting the cerebellum that leads to a loss of motor coordination. The title of his talk was “Lesion-symptom Mapping of the Human Cerebellum: The Usefulness of Biomechanical and Electrophysiological Measures.”
The project investigates Mentor Families, a relatively low-cost innovation to improve youth mentoring programs involving the groupings of four mentor–mentee pairs into a “family” that experiences a mentoring program together.
The project will be awarded $599,784 over the course of three years.
The award is presented to an outstanding Minnesota student in marriage/couple and family studies. Students are nominated by a member of their school’s faculty, who can attest to their academic and clinical body of work.
Erik Van Iterson, a doctoral candidate under the mentorship of assistant professor Eric Snyder, Ph.D., has been named a finalist for the American College of Cardiology’s (ACC) Young Investigator Award Competition. The title of his presentation is “Influence of Metaboreflex Stimulation on Cardiac Power and Stroke Work during Submaximal Constant-Load Exercise in Heart Failure.”
The competition winner and second place finisher are to be announced during the March 2015 annual ACC scientific sessions in San Diego, CA.