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APA recognizes professor for contributions, research

| Monday, October 27, 2014

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently selected psychology professor Kristin Valentino to receive the 2014 early career award for outstanding contributions to research in child maltreatment.

“When I was an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to pursue clinical psychology,” Valentino said. “But it wasn’t until I took a course in developmental psychopathology, where I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with a child in a psychiatric residential facility who had a severe history of child abuse, that I became really interested in the topic.”

Valentino said the class inspired her to develop a similar course on campus, Practicum in Child Maltreatment, which involves pairing local children in foster care with undergraduates to serve as their mentors.

“After developing a relationship with a child who had been the victim of severe child maltreatment, I started learning more about the prevalence of child maltreatment in our country, and was shocked to realize how many children are affected by child abuse and neglect, and how little attention this issue generally received,” she said.

Compared to other challenges to child development such as autism and ADHD, Valentino said far less attention and resources are devoted to addressing child abuse and neglect, despite the staggering rates at which they affect children.

“I feel passionate about bringing greater awareness to this issue, and beyond that, to using psychological research to inform policy and treatment efforts geared towards improving outcomes among children who have been affected by or are at risk for child maltreatment,” she said.

Valentino is currently working on a randomized clinical trial (RCT) called “Fostering healthy development among maltreated preschool-aged children” through funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

“We are one and a half years into a five year project and ultimately will be enrolling 240 families into the project overall,” she said. “Each family participates in the study for one year.”

Valentino said the project involves an intervention aimed at teaching maltreating mothers the necessary skills to enhance emotionally supportive communication with their children.

“I’m mainly interested in understanding if this brief intervention can improve maltreated children’s functioning in cognitive, emotional and physiological domains, if we can improve parenting and if we may identify the mechanisms that support positive intervention outcomes,” she said.

Valentino said she will continue to conduct the longitudinal RCT design in order to fully evaluate whether her intervention — aimed at improving certain processes deficient among maltreating families — is effective and able to expand nationally.

“We think that teaching mothers to sensitively discuss children’s feelings and to talk more frequently with their children will enhance the mother-child relationship,” she said.

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About Carolyn Hutyra

Carolyn Hutyra serves as an Assistant News Editor for The Observer. She is a senior from Arlington Heights, Illinois studying Biology and Anthropology.

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