A short interview with Carlos Valiente, PhD, from ASU's Sanford School

January 29, 2018

Meet Carlos Valiente, PhD, an associate professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

Question: Tell us about your research in Ethiopia. A profile picture of Carlos Valiente with gray background Carlos Valiente, PhD Download Full Image

Answer: The key goal of the research was to test if Ethiopian children’s temperament is related to their academic competence. A secondary goal was to test why these relations are present. To accomplish these goals, I worked with seven Ethiopian colleagues to collect data from children in pre-K to 2nd grade. Children completed tasks that assessed their emotional engagement in school and self-regulation. The teachers reported on children’s emotions, self-regulation, relationships with peers, school engagement, and achievement. All children were from extremely materially poor families. In fact, most were living on about $35 USD a month, and many lived in and around the trash dump in Addis Ababa. 

Q: What were you hoping to achieve with your research?

A major limitation of the existing research is that it only represents a very small percentage of children, say maybe 10 percent, and these 10 percent largely reside in WEIRD (White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) societies. It is therefore largely unknown if the same processes I study among children living in Phoenix are relevant in other societies. I wanted to expand our knowledge and help local organizations as they strive to meet the physical and educational needs of children in their programs.

Teacher reading a book to a small group of children in and Ethiopian classroom.

An Embracing Hope caregiver is reading a story to pre-school children.

While working for Embracing Hope, I:

• led efforts to implement play-based and reading activities that are designed to improve the quality of care being delivered—especially as it relates to social and academic development.=

• wrote two funded grants for Embracing Hope that will allow them to purchase learning materials, purchase items to improve the delivery of drinkable water and food, purchase medical supplies/pay for medical visits, acquire funds to prepare for the next community disaster, and improve their IT system

• improved their case management system that tracks the approximately 300 families in the program

• worked with students and colleagues from around the country to develop training materials for Embracing Hope teachers

Living in Ethiopia must have been an incredible change from living in Arizona. What stands out most from your time there?

It was quite difficult to constantly live in a stressful and impoverished environment. There was stress related to overcoming challenges of everything taking longer and being harder than what we experienced in the USA. In addition, shortly after moving to Ethiopia, there was significant political unrest. As a result, the government declared a state of emergency, which created a lot of uncertainty about if we could remain in Ethiopia. It also impacted our ability to use the internet and travel. But, the hardest part was living among an extremely poor population and learning when and how we could serve the people in our community in a way that would have lasting benefits.

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics


A short interview with Natalie Wilkens, PhD, from ASU's Sanford School

January 29, 2018

Meet Natalie Wilkens, PhD, an assistant professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

Question: What research are you currently working on? Profile picture of Natalie Wilkens, PhD Download Full Image

Answer: I am working on several ongoing research projects in which I am investigating different aspects of children’s and adolescents’ social and emotional development. Some kids are socially and emotionally competent. They have a host of skills that facilitates getting along with peers and adults, and this set of skills helps them become well-adjusted adults. I am interested in understanding why some kids develop social competence and others do not. I am also interested in understanding why some children and adolescents have adjustment problems such as social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and aggression. If we can identify factors that may improve the likelihood that children develop competence, or that may decrease the chances that children develop adjustment problems, we can use this information to help shape their developmental trajectories in positive ways.

Q: Which research project was the most challenging and why?

A: The majority of my focus during the past few years has been on a project called the Family Migration and Early Life Outcomes (FAMELO) Project. The research is funded by a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development program grant. FAMELO consists of three interrelated research agendas that are spearheaded by different researchers. All three agendas are aimed at understanding how family migration influences children left behind in their countries of origin. The agendas differ with respect to the particular aspect of children’s adjustment being examined. My agenda is focused on social competence and adjustment problems; Dr. Glick’s (The Pennsylvania State University) agenda is focused on educational outcomes, and Dr. Hayford’s (Ohio State University) agenda is focused on transitions to adulthood (e.g., family formation).

Migration is important to understand because it affects so many families worldwide. Yet, we know very little about the benefits or consequences of migration for children who are left behind when one or more family member leaves the household to live and work somewhere else. The social and emotional ramifications for children are particularly unclear because the topic is understudied and because the existing literature is limited in significant ways (e.g., small samples, cross-sectional study designs). If I find an association between family migration and left-behind children’s social competence or adjustment problems, I will investigate more nuanced questions that answer “why” and “for whom.” For instance, I expect that migration alters many of children’s experiences, and how parents, family members, and other people in children’s social networks engage with a child and provide resources to them.

The pieces of the research that are particularly exciting also make it challenging. First, we are surveying 9,000 5- to 17-year olds and their caregivers in migrant sending and non-sending households at two time points. These data are being collected in three sites that have different levels and histories of migration participation, and various levels of economic development: Mexico, Mozambique, and Nepal. We want the study to be comparable across the three data collection sites. We have to be very careful that the meaning of our questions is the same in each language, but also need to tailor certain questions to maintain cultural appropriateness.

Second, the FAMELO research team is composed of a large number of scholars at many universities. This introduces logistical complications, but the benefits outweigh the costs. We have different areas of expertise and come from varied disciplinary backgrounds. This allows us to bring unique perspectives to the table. Our team is on track to produce insightful and impactful work in the future.

Q: What impact do you envision your research having?

A: Ultimately, I hope that the results of our project will help inform policy directed at protections of children, as well as inform educational programs for families participating in migration.

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics