Duke Faculty Receive Seed Grants from ABC Thrive to Explore Innovations in Early Childhood Development

April 11, 2018

ABC ThriveAll Babies and Children Thrive (ABC Thrive), a new initiative at Duke, has awarded one-year seed grants of $20,000 to $30,000 to three interdisciplinary teams of faculty that are exploring innovations in positive early childhood development.

At the end of a successful pilot project, these groups will be eligible to compete for a larger award of up to $150,000 per year for a two-year period.

Collaboration to Promote Early Childhood Well-being in Families Experiencing Homelessness

Children represent 59% of individuals experiencing homelessness in families, and of these, 49% are between birth and age five. Young children experiencing homelessness are at great risk for mental health problems, developmental delays, and traumatic stress, all correlated with later physical and emotional/behavioral problems. Parents play a critical role in supporting young children during stressful events, but homeless parents confront particular challenges in furnishing such support because of their own stress. Empirical research on effective parent and health behavior programs in shelters is limited.

Working with Families Moving Forward, this study will test a new model by integrating three targeted programs (Healthy Home, Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up, HealthySteps) as a cohesive whole, rather than as disconnected pieces. Healthy Home furnishes an evidence-based health literacy curriculum; Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up teaches parents how to engage emotionally with children; and HealthySteps connects pediatricians and parents to help the latter understand and manage parenting challenges with kids under three. Results will inform best practices in shelter settings and begin to inform our understanding of young child well-being in families experiencing homelessness.

Early Language Acquisition with Sensory Impairment (ELASI)

Research on typically-developing infants has shown that word comprehension begins around six months and grows greatly by 14-18 months. In typically-developing children, language skills in infancy, which are influenced by the home environment, predict outcomes at school and beyond. However, we know little about how language unfolds and develops in children with severe or profound visual or hearing impairment.

By collecting language data from infants with visual or hearing impairments, and comparing this to data from typically-developing infants, this study hopes to uncover the trajectory of early language development in children with sensory deprivation and thereby inform early intervention practices locally and nationally. Uncovering how children with impaired vision or hearing learn language will also enrich our understanding of cognitive and linguistic development in all children.

Identifying Opportunities to Prevent Child Maltreatment in the Health and Social Services Systems

Child abuse and neglect affects over six million U.S. children per year. However, preventing child maltreatment and its poor outcomes is challenging due to lack of timely identification of children at risk. We lack a clear understanding of the types of interactions that at-risk children and their families have with professionals who could recognize risk factors and direct families to resources to help prevent child maltreatment.

The goal of this study is to analyze how children with documented maltreatment have interacted with the healthcare system and local agencies prior to their referral to social services and/or law enforcement. The study hopes to reveal patterns of interactions with health and social services that could assist with the prospective and early identification of children at risk of maltreatment, facilitate determination of those child- and family-level factors associated with different forms of maltreatment, and enable evaluation of how children who have experienced maltreatment are cared for by the health and social services systems.

About ABC Thrive

ABC Thrive takes a holistic approach to helping babies and young children get the best possible start in life, focusing on their physical, mental and emotional well-being, as well as their environment and community. Leveraging the innovative research, education, clinical care and outreach capabilities of Duke University and Duke Health, the initiative promotes optimal development in children from prenatal to age five.

Priority areas include prenatal and early childhood health and wellness; community outreach; and applied technology to achieve scale, with data analytics in each of these domains guiding the research.

ABC Thrive is affiliated with Bass Connections and housed in the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. It was established by a generous gift from Duke alumna and trustee Laurene Meir Sperling and her husband, Scott M. Sperling, through the Sperling Family Charitable Foundation. Leigh Ann Simmons, Associate Professor of Nursing, is the faculty director.

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