Child Development and Epidemiological Research

Project Theme(s): Vulnerable Populations and Communities, Trauma, Substance Use and Mental Health, Community Engaged Research & Evaluation, Systems Change

Area Description: The Child Development & Epidemiological Research Area uses research and evaluation methods to examine the ways in which risk and protective processes at the child, family, and systems levels influence developmental and other related outcomes for child and adolescent populations. A related aim of our work is to inform the development of more effective prevention and intervention services and supports to improve outcomes for children and families.

A primary focus of the area's work is on children and families exposed to adversity with a particular emphasis on those involved in child-serving systems (e.g., child welfare and children's behavioral health systems). This work involves close collaboration and consultation efforts with state agencies and community providers to frame relevant research and evaluation questions and design appropriate methods for collecting the necessary data with which to answer such questions.

A second area of research focuses on understanding risks of adolescent substance use and associated behaviors (e.g., antisocial or delinquent behavior, risky sexual activity). This area of research involves analysis of a range of regional, state, and national datasets to examine patterns of adolescent risk behavior and their relation to a range of social-ecological risk and protective factors at the individual, family, peer, school, and community level.

Finally, our work incorporates a range of quantitative data analytic methods to examine risk and protective processes associated with developmental processes and behavioral outcomes. Dr. Connell teaches the seminar on Data Analytic Methods in Prevention and Community Research for the Division of Prevention and Community Research Postdoctoral Training Program in Substance Abuse Prevention Research.

Examples of research and evaluation activities within the area are below. In addition, Dr. Connell and postdoctoral fellows working in the area are involved in a range of smaller research studies that address developmental and behavioral outcomes for children and adolescents in such areas as substance use and abuse, risky sexual behavior, and antisocial or delinquent activities. These studies frequently involve secondary analysis of existing data sets (e.g., AddHealth, NSCAW, etc.).

Dr. Connell is the principal investigator of a longitudinal research study to examine the effects of wraparound and other community-based services for children and families who have been referred following contact with child protective services (CPS). The wraparound service model is a family-centered, team-based planning process to provide individualized community-based services and natural supports for children and families. The study investigates the short-term (6- and 12-month) effects of receipt of community-based supports for child, caregiver, and family well-being; and to understand how these supports operate to produce positive outcomes. The research study is supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Administration for Children and Families.

The project team, led by Dr. Connell is conducting a statewide evaluation of a 5-year initiative to enhance the capacity of Connecticut’s child welfare system to provide effective trauma-informed care for children and families in need; the project is being conducted in collaboration with Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI). CONCEPT is funded by a Federal award from the Administration for Children and Families and will support transformation of Connecticut’s child welfare system into a trauma-informed system of care. The evaluation examines outcomes associated with CONCEPT activities related to workforce development, use of screening and assessment practices, and implementation of evidence-based and trauma-informed treatment services in community-based settings across the state.

Dr. Connell and the project team are conducting an evaluation of a Rhode Island-based initiative to create a comprehensive, multi-faceted diligent recruitment program for kinship, foster, and adoptive care providers that will improve permanency outcomes and build lasting connections for children in the Rhode Island foster care system. The project is supported by a 5-year Federal award from the Administration for Children and Families to Rhode Island’s Department of Children and Families (DCYF). The evaluation examines implementation and outcomes of various project activities including implementation of pre-service and in-service training for resource caregivers and use of promising diligent recruitment programs (e.g., Extreme Recruitment) to enhance both recruitment and retention of families who can provide stable long term foster and adoptive care for children in need.

Dr. Connell and the project team are conducting an evaluation of a Rhode Island-based initiative to create a trauma-informed and adoption-competent system for pre and post adoptive families which will improve permanency and well-being through stable and secure adoption. The project is supported by a five-year federal award from the Administration for Children and Families to Rhode Island’s Department of Children and Families (DCYF). The evaluation examines implementation and outcomes associated with project activities related to workforce development, use of screening and assessment practices, and implementation of evidence-based and trauma-informed treatment services in community-based settings across the state for children who are awaiting adoption or already in adoptive placements.

Maegan Genovese, M.S.
Research Associate

Emily Melnick, M.A.
Evaluation Consultant

Tanisha Mair, B.S.
Research Assistant

Dana Prince, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow

Sarah Vidal, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow