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Professor awarded $3 million

EVELYN HUANG | Friday, December 6, 2013

With a $3 million grant at her disposal, assistant professor of psychology Kristin Valentino will be able to test a maltreatment intervention program for local families.

Valentino received a grant from the Eunice K. Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to further her program that helps preschool age children in families with maltreatment problems, Valentino said. She said the program partners with the Department of Child Services in St. Joseph County.

The brief intervention program works with preschool age children and their mothers through six weekly home-based sessions. The sessions focus on enhancing mother-child communication and emotional support, Valentino said. Valentino said she the pilot program work’s success lies in the simple skills taught to help improve the lives of the participating families, She said these skills include emphasizing a child’s feelings and resolving negative emotions.

“We focus on three primary skills for mothers: asking more open ended questions, building on and being descriptive of what the child says and communicating about feelings,” Valentino said.

The program uses live videotaping and positive reinforcement to optimize parental motivation, Valentino said.

“Family coaches are trained to highlight and reinforce positive elements, and don’t give negative feedback,” she said. “These moms have a lot of people coming into their lives and telling them what they are doing wrong. You are better able to engage a parent by helping to reinforce what they are doing right, and building on that.”

Valentino said this grant provides financial support to extend this program more fully, and will allow her to see the long-term effects of the program.

“We are now able to extend this study longitudinally to 240 local families over the next five years,” Valentino said. “We are hoping to see these maltreated children develop to have a cognitive, social-emotional and physiological development that is not different from their peers. We also want to see an improvement in the moms, with decreased victimization.”

This research has the potential to advance scientific knowledge and help families outside of the local community, Valentino said.
“We have the potential to inform more effective clinical and social policy efforts designed to improve the welfare of maltreated children,” she said. “These programs can also be easily disseminated. It can be taught on a wider scale and introduced into wider communities.”

Valentino said she is passionate about using science to improve the lives of maltreated children and their families.
“Child abuse and neglect receives little public attention even though it is a big problem in our nation,” Valentino said. “This research can contribute to more practical programs that can help the developmental trajectory of maltreated children.”

Valentino conducts her research at the University’s Center of Children and Families, and she said Notre Dame’s mission as a university has supported her research.

“I really appreciate Notre Dame’s broader mission, and because my research fits with the mission of the University, I feel like my research is really supported at Notre Dame in a special way,” Valentino said.  

“I have also received excellent mentoring from colleagues and my co-investigators, Professor Cummings, Professor Borkowski and Professor Maxwell.”

Contact Evelyn Huang at