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ASU fund boosts child development research

January 07, 2008

Understanding how the development of children is affected by the challenges they often face is at the heart of a groundbreaking scholarly and translational project in the formative stages at ASU’s School of Social and Family Dynamics.

The new initiative – the Challenged Child Project – is designed to create the foundation from which ASU forges a synthesis in the emerging science of developmental challenge. It will be supported with $1 million over five years from the Intellectual Fusion Investment Fund.

“The School of Social and Family Dynamics is one of the areas of the university dedicated to children, their future and their well-being,” says Richard Fabes, director of the school. “This investment supports that ASU commitment to children. It will seed and support innovative and forward-looking interdisciplinary research projects focused on the challenges faced by children.”

Fabes, who is a professor of child development in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says that many children and their families face challenges as they grow and develop that begin at conception and carry on into later life.

“Our understanding of the dynamics of the developmental trajectories and paths that are involved in changes across the period of childhood is very rudimentary,” Fabes says. “This project will bring together experts in a variety of disciplines who are dedicated to better understanding these processes and to promoting an integrated science that clarifies how challenges and children’s development, and well-being are related.”

Barely a year old, the school will assemble a diverse array of research agendas and conceptualizations that are expected to focus on a variety of “challenge” areas, which include biological, such as disabilities; social, such as moving to a new neighborhood; economic, such as being reared in a family undergoing economic hardship; demographic, such as changing urbanization; and academic, such as literacy.

“We want to understand the 21st century challenges that children face and how these become tipping and turning points; why some children when they face a particular challenge fall off the edge. And for others, the challenge is a turning point, out of which comes improved achievement, competence, motivation and a commitment to excellence,” Fabes says.

“At the core will be an effort to develop a critical mass of scholarly activities that focus on the study of the factors that promote healthy development and well-being versus those that lead to developmental degeneration in the face of diverse challenges,” he adds.

The experts brought together under the Challenged Child Project will “form a critical mass of scientists dedicated to understanding these processes,” Fabes says. “This science will be a fusion of research on human and family development, risk and resiliency, positive psychology, stress and coping, and dynamic systems.”

From that mass, the project will contribute to ASU’s translational and impact agenda to build a New American University that focuses on use-inspired research and community outreach. The Challenged Child Project will launch a series of activities, including workshops, and will publish research briefs that translate working papers into information that is useful for practitioners, families and Arizona legislators.

The Challenged Child Project also will support the school’s new role as the Arizona member of the national Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars network.

“Although policy decisions that affect children and families are increasingly being made at the state level, state policy-makers often do not have access to the growing body of research and knowledge on the complex issues under discussion, such as early childhood education and care, health care, juvenile crime, school finance and welfare reform,” Fabes says. “This project will support our role in the Family Impact Seminars, which are designed to address these issues by developing briefing reports and seminars for state policy-makers, their staffs, agency representatives and service providers.”

The seminars provide non-partisan, solution-based research on issues relevant to state policy-making.

“They’re designed to strengthen the connections between child development research and state policy-making. We plan to use some of the available funds from the intellectual fusion investment to promote the development and operation of the Family Impact Seminars as part of the Challenged Child Project,” Fabes says.

“This component of the project allows us to connect with the people who will implement the knowledge we generate,” Fabes says. “Through the Challenged Child Project, ASU is investing in some of the most important things in life: children, their families and the environments in which they grow up.”