University of Massachusetts Amherst

Search Google Appliance


Combining Research and Practice to Support New Parents: A New Experimental Class in Springfield Begins

Students in Psych 297 at the UMass Springfield Center.

What happens when you bring professionals who work with young parents together with UMass students interested in risk and resilience in families?  CRF has developed an exciting new course this fall that taps the knowledge of Healthy Families home visitors while bringing a research-based framework to bear on topics such as parenting styles and strategies, high risk families, families and culture and more. Dr. Maureen-Perry Jenkins, Director of CRF and Professor of Psychology and Gisele Litalien, Associate Director of CRF head the Umass contingent of the instructional team and they are collaborating with Meg Manning and Lee MacKinnon, family training specialists at the Children’s Trust.  The Children’s Trust is a statewide agency whose goal is to prevent child abuse. They fund and provide training and support for Healthy Families Programs across the state.

Thirteen students have been meeting at the UMass Center Springfield to examine research and practice that address thought-provoking and challenging questions such as: What factors impact the decision to breastfeed? What is the best way to work with families dealing with both trauma and substance abuse issues? What skills can families learn that will build their resilience in the face of challenges? What is unique about adolescent parenting? How does father involvement impact outcomes for children? Numerous faculty from UMass Amherst and Baystate as well as community practitioners have committed their time and expertise to developing this applied, interdisciplinary course on risk and resilience factors for first-time parents.

Students are developing exciting projects that will incorporate research with their own experiential learning into a presentations or products that can be used to enhance their work with colleagues and families. UMass students are integrating the field-based observations of their peers into their understanding of family development.  The course is the first step towards creating a pathway to college for professionals who often gain intensive field-based knowledge but lack the opportunity to gain college credit and earn degrees. UMass students gain the unique opportunity to learn from professionals working in the field about the challenges and rewards of working with at-risk families.