Evaluating Military Family Programs
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Cornell University
Brian Leidy is director of The Military Projects in the Bronfenbrenner Center. In this podcast episode, Evaluating Military Family Programs, he and Karl discuss the project's work doing process evaluation for the military and the challenges and importance of supporting this unique community.
Brian D. Leidy is a senior extension associate and the principal investigator for the Military Projects in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. This work is funded primarily through grants from USDA/NIFA. He has formerly worked as a managerial consultant for social service agencies and educational institutions evaluating training, social service programs, and policy initiatives; and at Cornell doing training in supervision and administration with adult protective service supervisors and adult home administrators throughout New York State. Prior to coming to Cornell, he worked in public child welfare and mental health programs for children and adolescents.
Doing Translational Research episode 8: Evaluating Military Family Programs with Brian Leidy
By H. Roger Segelken for the Cornell Chronicle:
With millions of American parents, mostly fathers, locked in jails and prisons, a national conference at Cornell Sept. 15-16 shined the spotlight on their kids back home.
“Minimizing the Collateral Damage: Interventions to Diminish the Consequences of Mass Incarceration for Children” was the topic of the Fifth Biennial Urie Bronfenbrenner Conference, featuring a multidisciplinary mix of scholars from more than a dozen institutions and programs.
“One of the most shocking phenomena this country has witnessed in the last century has been the unprecedented rise in mass incarceration,” said conference co-organizer Anna Haskins, Cornell assistant professor of sociology and member of the Center for the Study of Inequality. An estimated 1 in 14 American children (about 7 percent) has a parent incarcerated at some point in their young lives, observed Haskins. Of special concern, she emphasized, “is the overwhelming disparity in which this issue touches African-American and Hispanic but not white populations.”
Haskins hopes the conference opens new areas of inquiry for social scientists. “We know more about the deleterious consequences for imprisoned individuals and former inmates,” she said, “but less attention has been paid to the broader fallout for families.”
The conference series and the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) are named for Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005), the renowned developmental psychologist who taught at Cornell for more than 50 years and developed the so-called ecological systems theory. Several conference-goers said the ecological approach could help to untangle incarceration’s effect on family and society.
Christopher Wildeman, associate director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research and associate professor of policy analysis and management, speaks at the conference.
Said conference co-organizer Christopher Wildeman, BCTR associate director and associate professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology: “The conference’s multidisciplinary focus, in addition to being highly consistent with Urie’s own academic orientation, is also unique within this research field – where psychologists, sociologists, economists and criminologists who study the consequences of parental incarceration rarely publish in the same journals, attend the same conferences or grapple with each others’ perspectives.”
One productive outcome of the conference, Wildeman said, will be a proceedings volume with authors from all those fields, published by the American Psychological Association.
A third conference co-organizer, Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, professor of human ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that “developmental perspectives are lacking” so far in most studies of incarceration’s consequences. Scholars need to know “how parental incarceration can get under the skin of children and influence through an entire life course.” When considering a child’s resilience in the face of parental incarceration, Poehlmann-Tynan said, researchers should remember “resilience is a process, not a characteristic or trait.” Some children appear to do surprisingly well during parental incarceration, she said. “We can’t paint the picture that parental incarceration (inevitably) is doom.”
Sara Wakefield, an associate professor in the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice (and co-author, with Wildeman, of “Children of the Prison Boom: Mass Incarceration and the Future of American Inequality”) sought to correct some popular misconceptions. Many parents hide their criminal activity from their children – until, that is, they’re arrested, prosecuted and punished, she said. Furthermore, long sentences in state or federal prisons aren’t the only source of stigma and trauma among convicts’ children. Hundreds of thousands of Americans cycle through local jails every month, Wakefield said, “and even short spells in jail are highly consequential for children.”
Sociologist Kristin Turney, from the University of California, Irvine, highlighted possible effects of parental incarceration, including strains on parental relationships, economic well-being and health, and suggested children might develop behavior problems or experience diminished cognitive skills. Among the youngest children of incarcerated parents, boys seem to be most affected, Turney said. But as children mature, girls are more likely to be troubled by a father’s incarceration.
Joyce Arditti, professor of human development and family studies at Virginia Tech, reported some children growing up with an incarcerated biological parent they never knew – outside or inside prison walls – can still be affected by that stigmatizing association.
As for the Bronfenbrenner conference venue as an apt place to discuss family-ecological perspectives of child development, Arditti said: “It’s kind of cool to be here in his ‘backyard.’”
Conference spotlights consequences of parental incarceration - Cornell Chronicle
By Olivia M. Hall from the Cornell Chronicle:
Runaway slaves, social media, environmental education, the wisdom of elders – the sixth annual Youth Development Research Update June 1-2 in Ithaca covered a lot of ground.
Funded by the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) in the College of Human Ecology, the conference brought together 55 Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and program leaders, youth service providers from community agencies and Cornell faculty members from across campus to explore how these and other topics relate to children and teens and how to better serve their needs.
“This event creates a unique, interactive space for practitioners and researchers to engage in sustained dialogue about ongoing research and the potential for future collaboration,” said assistant professor of human development Anthony Burrow, who organized the event with Jutta Dotterweich, director of training for BCTR’s ACT for Youth project.
Stephanie Graf, a Youth and Family Program leader with Jefferson County Extension, has developed several fruitful partnerships over five years of attending the conference. For a past project on Defiant Gardens for military families, for example, she worked with professor of natural resources Marianne Krasny, who this year spoke about environmental education programs to support positive youth development.
Krasny outlined how environmental stewardship activities have potential to stimulate positive growth in young people, leading to healthier physical habits, skills for future employment or greater self-confidence and emotional self-regulation. Educators, meanwhile, face the challenge of guiding youth without overly imposing their own experiences and decision-making – a dilemma for which she suggested a reflective practice of providing structure, support, mutual learning, open communication and ultimate accountability. “Positive youth development is possible,” she said, “but it’s not easy.”
Graf found research by Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis and management and a BCTR faculty fellow, on the stigma associated with parental incarceration to be equally relevant to her work, where she sometimes encounters children of inmates in her county’s after-school programs.
Wildeman reviewed research on the United States’ historically high rate of incarceration – which at 500 prisoners per 100,000 citizens far outstrips other developed democracies – and its disproportionately negative impact on minority families. He then described a new experimental study in which teachers, presented with hypothetical students new to their classroom, expected more behavioral problems and less competence from children whose fathers are in prison. These results support the “sticky stigma” attached to paternal incarceration, Wildeman said.
History professor Edward Baptist drew a link from Wildeman’s talk when discussing his Freedom on the Move project. “I think that mass incarceration probably wouldn’t exist and certainly wouldn’t have the shape that it does without the strategies that were created to try to control and continue to force people into the institution of slavery,” Baptist said.
One such strategy was for slave masters to place runaway slave ads in newspapers, reinforcing the persistent scrutiny under which even free African-Americans found themselves. Collaborating with colleagues at Cornell and other universities, Baptist has built a crowdsourcing platform that will engage the public in transcribing and parsing data from some 200,000 ads that survive from the period between 1722 and 1865.
A poster session on the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE) concluded the conference, allowing attendees to question researchers about work in its four focus areas: healthy transitions for adolescents; intergenerational connections between high schoolers and older adults; the productive use of social media; and leveraging youth purpose to increase engagement and learning in 4-H.
Burrow, PRYDE co-director, said: “The update provides a rare space for researchers to attend a conference alongside needed collaborators. It’s like having your cake and eating it, too.”
Conference shares latest youth development research - Cornell Chronicle
Young parents, especially teen parents, must depend on a network of support and multiple services to raise their children, achieve educational and financial goals, and keep their families healthy. Resources for expectant and parenting teens and young adults may come from many directions: supportive housing, child care, and employment services, to name a few – but often there is no clearly identifiable system that coordinates these efforts.
Pathways to Success, an initiative of the New York State Department of Health, aims to better connect parenting teens and young adults to key resources in Buffalo, Rochester, and the Bronx. The initiative funds one community college and one public school district in each community, with technical assistance provided by the BCTR’s ACT for Youth Center of Excellence. Specifically, ACT staff members Amanda Purington, Dora Welker, Divine Sebuharara, Mary Maley, Christy Heib, Jane Powers, and Heather Wynkoop-Beach have all played important roles on various parts of this initiative.
While Pathways grantees had a good sense of available services, coordinating these services to best serve youth in need was a daunting challenge. ACT staff recognized that social network analysis could be used in these communities to both create a distinct picture of existing networks and identify ways to strengthen collaborations.
Social network analysis is a set of methods for examining social structures and relationships within a network. Using the PARTNER social network analysis tool (created at the University of Colorado Denver), ACT staff worked with grantees to build customized online surveys and analyzed results in order to better understand collaborative activity within grantee networks and possibilities for new connections.
To define their networks, all the Pathways grantees were asked to compile a list of organizations with whom they already have relationships, or would like to be connected. ACT staff then developed PARTNER-based surveys tailored to each community. Next grantees distributed the surveys to their network lists, encouraging participation. Finally, ACT staff quantified the results, creating a visual representation of how the different organizations are -- or are not – connected.
Using the survey results, ACT staff created two types of network maps for the Pathways to Success initiative. The first map illustrates the level of collaboration. “Networking” is the most basic level: members of the network are aware of one another and may have informal relationships, but do not make any major decisions together. Networking is followed on the continuum by cooperation, coordination, and coalition, with collaboration at the highest level – when all major decisions are made collectively. The second map depicts frequency of contact among organizations. “Higher” and “more frequent” are not always ideal or feasible. The maps help spur discussion of what level of collaboration and frequency of contact would best serve young families in each community.
Three network indicators are also included in the analysis: 1) density -- the number of network ties relative to the total number of possible ties – which demonstrates the overall cohesiveness of the collaborative, 2) degree centralization, which refers to how well connected the members of the network are collectively, and 3) the level of trust among the members as a whole. For example, one community network had an overall trust score of 78%, indicating that a majority of responding organizations reported high levels of mutual trust. In addition to these whole network indicators, many other metrics can also be examined for each of the organizations in the network.
To discuss the findings, ACT for Youth held “data dialogue” sessions with grantees in each community. The network maps clarified where communication and collaboration are strong, and where there are opportunities to help the community better serve expectant and parenting young people. Some grantees were surprised that while their community was rich in resources, those resources were not being evenly accessed. Grantees also recognized a lack of coordination among certain organizations, resulting in some members of the network “doing the same job many times over.” Other grantees realized the need to focus on strengthening and building community systems to include organizations that may not have completed the survey, but should be at the table. For example, one group was surprised when they noticed that their county health department and a home visiting program had not responded to the survey, prompting the grantees to think about strengthening connections to include these valuable resources in future conversations.
Following these initial sessions, the grantees are holding meetings with their networks of community organizations. These meetings mirror the first data dialogue session, but allow an opening for the larger community to discuss how they can strengthen relationships in the entire network, bring others to the table, decrease duplication of services, and take steps to bridge gaps.
For the Pathways to Success initiative, this first implementation of the survey will serve as a baseline for the communities. ACT for Youth will help grantees administer the survey annually, documenting change over time, including stronger relationships among the vital organizations within each community.Share
Urie Bronfenbrenner recorded by Cornell University Media Services in August 1976.Share
The BCTR's Rachel Dunifon and Kimberly Kopko (with Kathleen Ziol-Guest) authored a new article that looks at the effects of grandparents living with families. Grandparent Coresidence and Family Well-Being was published in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science this summer.
U.S. children today have increasingly diverse living arrangements. In 2012, 10 percent of children lived with at least one grandparent; 8 percent lived in three-generational households, consisting of a parent and a grandparent; while 2 percent lived with a grandparent and no parent in the household. This article reviews the literature on grandparent coresidence and presents new research on children coresiding with grandparents in modern families. Findings suggest that grandparent coresidence is quite common and that its prevalence increased during the Great Recession. Additionally, these living arrangements are diverse themselves, varying by the marital status of the parent, the home in which the family lives, and the economic well-being of the family. Suggestions for future research are also proposed.
The BCTR's Elaine Wethington talks about the career vs. motherhood choice that female academics face and her own decision to pursue her academic career in a new video produced by the Cornell Institute for Women in Science. Stanka Fitneva, professor of psychology at Queen's University, Canada, also describes her personal experience of having a child while working in academia. Additionally, Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development at Cornell and founder and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, offers commentary and historical perspective.Share
The Third International Conference of the Residential Child Care Project, In the Best Interests of the Child: Caring for Them—Caring for Us, was held May 9-11, 2012 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Three hundred people attended from the U.S. (27 states), Canada (6 provinces), England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Ireland, Bermuda, Australia (5 states/territories), and South Africa.
The conference engages professionals working with children and families to improve the quality of their care and treatment, offering attendees a unique opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences. Keynote speakers were:
- Larry Brendtro, Ph.D., Founder, Circle of Courage Institute, and Dean, Starr Commonwealth Institute for Training
- Sandra Bloom, M.D., Associate Professor, Drexel University, and Founder, Sanctuary Institute
- Kenneth V. Hardy, Ph.D., Professor, Drexel University, and Director, Eikenberg Institute for Relationships
- Paul Baker, Ph.D., Director, NorthStar Educational and Therapeutic Services, and Assistant Director, Clinical Department, Allambi Youth Services
- David Allen, Associate Clinical Director, Directorate of Learning Disability Services, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, and Professor in the Clinical Psychology of Intellectual Disabilities, Welsh Centre for Learning Disabilities
- James Anglin, Ph.D., Associate Vice-President Academic and Director of International Affairs, University of Victoria
The event was marked by a strong sense of community and shared purpose, as indicated by attendee comments in the event evaluation forms:
I love that we had the ability to hear from and question true experts in the field.
I appreciated the depth of information on trauma and the brain.
I am re-energized and motivated.
and, in response to the question, "What did you like best about the program?":
The feeling of a wonderful community of people passionately connected to the healing of our children.
Video is now online of BCTR director John Eckenrode's presentation, Preventing Early Adversity and Improving the Life Chances of Socially Disadvantaged Children and Families, at the Spring 2012 Picower Symposium, sponsored by The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.
Preventing Early Adversity and Improving the Life Chances of Socially Disadvantaged Children and Families
As more research documents the wide-ranging and long-term impacts of early adversity on the developing brain and life course outcomes, there is an imperative to develop approaches to prevent exposure to such adversities in early childhood and to buffer the effects of toxic stressors by creating supportive environments for children. This presentation will review a 30-year effort to develop and test the effectiveness of the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) program, which consists of home visitation by nurses to low income first-time mothers during pregnancy and the first two years of their child’s life. Three randomized trials of the program have been conducted. Evidence will be presented showing that the program reduced children’s exposure to adversities in the form of child abuse and neglect. In addition, data will be reviewed showing the positive impact of the program on mothers’ life course development, thus improving the parenting environment for their children. Finally, results pertaining to the program’s impact on child development outcomes will be presented, consistent with a neurobiological impact of the program. As such, the NFP program could be considered an example of a neurobiologically informed ecological intervention for at-risk mothers and their children.