Four Faculty Teams Receive ABC Thrive Seed Grants to Improve Early Childhood Outcomes

November 12, 2020

ABC Thrive.

All Babies and Children Thrive (ABC Thrive) has awarded seed grants of up to $40,000 to four interdisciplinary teams of Duke faculty. The teams will explore new interventions to support positive early childhood development ranging from tools for earlier identification of children at risk for neurodevelopmental challenges, to methods for teaching young children prosocial behaviors, to improving outcomes for black children and families through early care interventions and new teaching methods.

At the end of a successful pilot project, these teams will be eligible to compete for a larger award of up to $300,000 over two years.

Behavioral Insights and Engagement Among Black Families in Family Connects Durham

Faculty leaders: Karen Carmody, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Lisa Gennetian, Sanford School of Public Policy

Faculty/staff contributors: Jessica McCoppin, Sanford School of Public Policy

Community partners: Center for Child and Family Health

Providing new parents with evidence-based, culturally relevant support postpartum has been proven to strengthen parents’ capacity to support their children’s health and development and potentially reduce socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities later in life. Family Connects Durham (FCD), a postpartum home visiting program administered by the Center for Child and Family Health, offers all Durham families a free nurse home visit about three weeks after the birth of a child. In randomized trials, FCD demonstrated improved service connections, higher-quality parenting, lower maternal anxiety, and reduced emergency medical care and child protective service investigations. However, Black families are far less likely than white families to schedule and complete a home visit.

This project will apply insights from behavioral economics to design and pilot new strategies to increase participation and subsequent behavioral change among Black families. Using the behavioral economics framework, researchers will seek to understand the sequence of interrelated decisions that families in the program make, in order to design new interventions to improve parent engagement.

From Data Science to Clinical Care: Optimizing Predictive Models to Improve Child Neurodevelopment

Faculty leaders: Richard Chung, Pediatrics, School of Medicine; Scott Kollins, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine

Faculty/staff contributors: Armando Bedoyam, Medicine, School of Medicine; Stephen Blackwelder, Duke University Health System; Geraldine Dawson, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Kenneth Dodge, Sanford School of Public Policy; Matthew Engelhard, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Elsa Friis, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Monica Lemmon, Pediatrics, School of Medicine; Gary Maslow, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Eliana Perrin, Pediatrics, School of Medicine; Ryan Shaw, School of Nursing

Early identification and intervention for neurodevelopment disorders, like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), can significantly improve outcomes. However, screening for ASD and ADHD is not currently well integrated into routine pediatric primary care, limiting opportunities for early and effective intervention.

This project seeks to use predictive data models to identify risk for neurodevelopmental challenges earlier and more efficiently, effectively communicate this risk to relevant stakeholders, and develop scalable interventions to reduce risk. If successful, this study has the potential to reduce risk and burden related to neurodevelopmental disorders across the population, including children of color who are at particular risk for late diagnosis and delayed intervention.

Promoting Care: Mindfulness and Compassion-based Contemplative Training for Early Educators and Preschoolers

Faculty leaders: Michael Gaffrey, Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Craig Rawlings, Sociology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Faculty/staff contributors: Ellen Gaffrey, Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Community partners: The Little School of Hillsborough and The Little School at Duke

Research has suggested that prosocial behavior (behavior intended to help others) and feelings of social connectedness enhance the health and well-being of even very young children. However, children don’t always respond with kindness for others and can show favoritism starting at an early age. The emergence and persistence of these exclusionary actions can be shaped by caregiver behavior.

This project will test the potential for using the Call to Care (C2C) program to improve prosocial behavior in preschoolers. C2C is a professional development program for elementary school teachers developed by the Mind & Life Institute to nurture the caring capacities of teachers and introduce activities that will strengthen a child’s natural capacity for compassion.

By using C2C with children as young as three, this study will test the feasibility of using the C2C framework within a preschool setting and identify factors that foster child compassion and social connectedness with peers at this age. This study hopes to inform future large-scale investigations of C2C and other similar educational approaches that capitalize on the transformative power of early childhood development to foster healthier and more compassionate children and societies.

Race, Gesture, Learning and Teaching Effectiveness

Faculty leaders: Leslie Babinski, Sanford School of Public Policy; Sarah Gaither, Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Anna Gassman-Pines, Sanford School of Public Policy; Makeba Wilbourn, Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Faculty/staff contributors: Talita Ahmed, Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Alex Chan, Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Alexandria West, Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Community partners: Empower Dance Studio, KidZu, Museum of Life and Science, The Duke School, White Rock Child Development Center

Black and white individuals’ nonverbal communication (such as gesturing) differs, with Black individuals gesturing more than white individuals. Ongoing research has found that gesture enhances language development and facilitates student learning and teacher effectiveness – particularly for Black children who show larger vocabulary gains after exposure to gesture-accompanied speech. These findings suggest that gesturing may serve as a cultural tool to narrow the achievement gap between Black and white children.

The goal of this study is to identify which gesture types are the most common and most effective for enhancing Black and white children’s learning outcomes. These findings will be used to develop a series of instructional videos for teachers on the effective use of gesturing in the classroom.

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. ABC Thrive is codirected by Staci Bilbo, Haley Family Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and Katie Rosanbalm, Senior Research Scientist, Duke Center for Child and Family Policy.

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