The New York Foundling Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection is committed to:
- developing agency-based research
- establishing a scientific base for practice
- positioning itself as one of the nation’s leaders in the development and implementation of research in the field of child welfare and child maltreatment.
Currently, the Fontana Center is engaged in a series of research studies in the area of psychological maltreatment. The Fontana Center has recently entered into partnerships with local universities to help generate grant proposals and research projects that support program evaluation and best practice in the field. In addition to its own research the Fontana Center has made a commitment to support practice related and academic research by awarding small grants to doctoral students whose dissertations examine issues in the field of child welfare. The Fontana Center disseminates its research findings and new developments in its research department through the Beacon, the Research Newsletter and its annual research conference.
to contact The Fontana Center Research Department.
The New York Foundling Fontana Center seeks to expand its internal capacity to support and conduct practice related research and program evaluation through informal and formal collaborations with targeted universities. The Fontana Center has recently completed a Survey of New York City’s Prevention Programs for Substance Abusing Parents and is working closely with New York City’s Administration for Children Services to help prioritize the 20 recommendations for improving services and practice. Currently, Dr. Amy Baker, the Fontana’s Center Research Director is collaborating with Dr. Trudy Festinger, Professor at New York University School of Social Work on the first of what is hoped to be a series of research studies in the area of psychological maltreatment. The Fontana Center is proud to announce that Dr. Oriana Linares, Associate Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Child Study Center will be working with the Fontana Center’s research department to help generate grant proposals and research studies that support program evaluation and best practice at The Foundling.
The Beacon is the research newsletter of The New York Foundling Fontana Center for Child Protection. The goal of The Beacon is to inform colleagues throughout the child welfare system about current research activities being conducted at the Fontana Center and provide updates on practice-related research and highlight the importance of translating research findings to child welfare practice.
Beacon Vol 5
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Beacon Vol 3
Beacon Vol 2
Beacon Vol 1
Below are summaries of research that may be of particular interest to professionals in the field of child welfare.
Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R.K., Turner, H., & Hamby, S.L. (2005). Measuring poly-victimization using the Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire. Child Abuse & Neglect, 29, 1297-1312.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether specific combinations of childhood victimization experiences were associated with greater symptoms in children. Researchers administered the 34-item Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire to over two thousand children in a nationally representative sample, ages 2 to 17 (data on children between 2 and 9 years of age were collected from parents) as well as two measures of trauma symptoms. Results revealed that one fifth of the sample had experienced four or more different kinds of victimizations in separate incidents in the past 12 months. Youth who had a greater number of different victimization events had higher trauma scores. The authors suggest that when children have a strong trauma reaction to an immediate victimization, it is important to look beyond this proximal experience and consider whether the child has a history of victimizations that is also contributing to the distress. They also conclude that the number, rather than type of victimization, is a better predictor of symptoms and that several victimizations by peers, for example, can lead to the same symptom pattern as a single victimization by a parent. They argue against assumptions about which types of victimization are inherently more traumatic for children. They provide validity of several different means of coding poly-victimization from the same Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire and call for additional research in this area. These findings have several implications for child welfare practice. First, a significant portion of children who have suffered one form of trauma have also experienced multiple other traumas. This suggests that intake and screening staff – as well as ongoing clinical and case work staff – should be sensitive to the fact that they may not know all the types of victimizations individuals have experienced in their lifetime. Second, the findings argue against any simplistic assumptions about the relationship between specific types of victimization and trauma. Agencies might want to consider implementing the JVC and the trauma measures on a routine basis (as part of screening or as part of ongoing clinical interventions) for individuals in their programs.
O’Donnell, J.M., Johnson, W.E., Jr., D’Aunno, L.E., & Thornton, H.L. (2005). Fathers in child welfare: caseworkers’ perspectives. Child Welfare, LXXXIV, 387-414.
Research has demonstrated that fathers tend to be significantly less involved in child welfare services than mothers. The current study was conducted in order to identify some of the barriers to father participation. Focus groups were held with 34 caseworkers from prevention and placement programs, to hear from them what they believe are the impediments to father involvement. The major question posed in the focus group was, “Some research has found that fathers, especially non custodial fathers, are rarely involved in child welfare planning and services. Does your experience agree with these findings?” Follow-up questions included, “Why aren’t more fathers involved? Are mothers more involved than fathers? Are there any polices or practices in the child welfare system that discourages paternal involvement? Results revealed several reasons for lack of father participation including harsher treatment by the system, gender bias among caseworkers, fathers’ mistrust of the system, and barriers of father involvement created by the mothers (due to fear of fathers gaining custody, resentment that a father is in a new relationship, reluctance to share any personal information, and concern that the father will be angry if information about him is provided to the caseworker). The authors concluded that the participants of the focus group seemed to have a better grasp of the problems and circumstances of mothers as well as a greater level of comfort in working with them. The mothers were perceived by caseworkers as having been closer to their children, more motivated to work with the system to get them back, better able to provide personal information, and less intimidated by the bureaucracy of the child welfare system. The vast majority of the focus group participants voiced the opinion that fathers and mothers have the same needs and they seemed to lack the knowledge and tools for interacting with fathers in ways that were designed to build on their strengths and unique roles within the family. The authors call for the development of assessments that measure the full range of possible paternal roles, testing of effective interventions to better engage fathers, and enhancing skill development among staff in their work with fathers. These findings suggest that child welfare agency staff should consider developing policies that encourage and support father involvement, identify the barrier within their particular programs that impede such involvement, and implement a range of interventions to address these barriers. Staff at all levels within an agency should be involved in such efforts.
Hines, A.M., Merdinger, J., Wyatt, P. (2005). Former Foster Youth Attending College: Resilience and the Transition to Young Adulthood. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 75 (2), 381-394.
The long-term outcomes for youth in foster care are generally not as good as for youth in the general population. Studies have shown that a disproportionate number of former foster youth are homeless, dependent on public assistance, and unemployed, and that they are less likely to attend and graduate from college than other youth. However, not all youth who have experienced child maltreatment and subsequent out of home placement have poor outcomes. Yet little is known about the experiences of the well-functioning former foster care youth. The primary objective of this study was to begin to understand the processes by which maltreated youth, specifically those raised in the foster care system, achieved academic success despite their early adversity. First hand knowledge about the experiences of a sample of 14 youth who grew up in foster care and were currently doing well in college was obtained from in-depth interviews. Analyses of the responses to the interview questions confirmed findings of earlier research on risk and resiliency in children and youth by indicating the presence of protective factors among the respondents, including intelligence, an even disposition, an optimistic and resourceful personality type, patience, and the ability to delay gratification. Additional protective factors included: (1) engagement in positive educational activities and sports, (2) ability to be assertive in protecting themselves emotionally and physically, (3) accepting responsibility for themselves to leave their abusive family or report the abuse to another adult, (4) development of independence and self-sufficiency, due to having been left on their own from a young age and learning that if they wanted something, they had to do it for themselves, (5) ability to ask for and receive help when needed, (6) being goal-oriented, determined, and extremely tenacious, (7) the desire to be different from their abusive families in their efforts not to repeat the past, (8) the importance of friends and significant others and the role of positive parenting figures, (9) institutions within the larger community, including the educational system and the foster care system, that fostered ties to the larger community and compensated for deficits in the life of the youth. In particular, several respondents spoke of ways the foster care system “saved” them or changed their life for the better by giving them new opportunities for education, positive relationships with adults, and a chance to make new friends. Taken together these findings can serve as inspiration to child welfare agency staff and youth and can guide program efforts to support and promote resiliency among all the children in care.
Ruston, A., & Dance, C. (2005). Negative parental treatment of the singled-out child: Responses to the problem by home visitors, social service departments and child and adolescent mental health services. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 10(3), 413-428.
Parental rejection has profound negative consequences for the social-emotional development of children. Although it is widely accepted that parents have different relationships with each of their children, the study of parental rejection has not yet taken this into account. The current study had as its aim an examination of parental rejection in the context of one child in the family being singled out for emotional abuse while other children in the family were spared such treatment. Three phases of the study were undertaken. In the first phase, 107 (of 121) home visitors in a program operated in Southeast London were interviewed about this problem. Almost all of the interviewees reported that they had witnessed the phenomenon of parents singling out one child for rejection and 68% said that this problem was evident in at least one case in their current caseload. The parents were described in relation to the singled-out children as giving less praise, while being more blaming, more physically punitive, and more verbally hostile. These children were reported to be more anxious and withdrawn than the other children in the family.
In the second phase of the study, social service case referral records for 13 cases in which a child was singled out for emotional abuse were compared to 15 cases in which more than one child in the family was the subject of such abuse. The researchers concluded that social service interventions in all cases were probably insufficient to detect or treat emotional abuse. One difference between the two groups was that the singled-out child cases were less likely to be given high priority (no statistics are reported).
The third phase of the study involved in-depth interviews with 53 mental health providers who had some experience with cases of singled out children. Respondents offered seven possible explanations for the singling out of one child for emotional abuse: scapegoating, projection onto the child of parents’ own negative attributes, the child representing some other figure (i.e., absent father), lack of bonding between parent and child, the transgenerational transmission of parent’s own rejection as a child, lack of fit between parent and child, and the child being punished for holding a family secret. Clinicians reported being very concerned about this problem as they viewed the child as being at severe risk for negative outcomes. In addition, they shared their own pain and discomfort in witnessing this phenomenon. Therapists also spoke of the difficult task of engaging such families as they often came to treatment with complaints about the child not with a view toward changing themselves. Therapists reported “walking a tightrope” between engaging the parents while not reinforcing negative views of the child. They saw their first task as developing trust with the parents and establishing a “no blame/no shame” approach in their work. In the end, there was a range of opinions about whether such families were able to improve. In addition, clinicians did not report utilizing any evidenced-based treatments as none may be available for this particular phenomenon.
Haight, W.L., Mangelsdorf, S., Black, J., Szewczyk, M., Schoppe, S., Giorgio, G., Madrigal, K., and Lakshmi. T. (2005). Enhancing Parent-Child Interaction During Foster Care Visits: Experimental Assessment of an Intervention. Child Welfare, Vol. 84 (#4).
The majority of children removed from home enter foster care with the permanency goal of reunification with family. Thus, formerly abusive/neglectful parent-child relationships are expected to improve to such a point as to allow a discharge back home. Parental visitations with children while they are in care are considered the primary mechanism for maintaining and improving the relationship. Nor surprisingly, however, these visits are emotionally complicated experiences for both children and their parents, especially the end of the visit when parents and children must say good bye to each other.
With that in mind, an intervention was developed to improve the quality of parent-child interactions during the leave taking portion of the visit. It was presumed that improving the leave taking would lead to improvements in other aspects of the visit and the relationship itself. The intervention had two components. Mothers were offered emotional support from a trained professional who listened with respect and empathy, acknowledged the pain and loss involved in having a child in foster care, and provided positive feedback about their parenting. In addition, mothers were provided with specific suggestions and strategies for supporting their children during leave taking.
Twenty mother-child dyads participated in the study. All mothers participated in a clinical interview prior to and following a visit with their child. Half of the dyads were randomly assigned to receive the intervention, which involved a discussion prior to the visit about leave taking and strategies to improve it.
Parent-child visits were videotaped and researchers coded (1) use of leave taking strategies by the mother, (2) child distress, and (3) affect of the mother throughout the session. Results revealed that parents used a variety of leave taking strategies: almost all expressed their love to the child, three fourths engaged their children in clean-up routines, more than half provided their children with an object to take from the visit, explicitly told their children good-bye, and discussed the next visit. A little less than half engaged in neutral or positive talk about where the child was going from the visit. Mothers in the intervention group exhibited statistically significantly more leave taking strategies, although there were no significant differences by specific strategy. However, intervention mothers were coded as less inventive and more intrusive. Intervention mothers were also coded as less engaged during the leave taking.
The authors conclude that visiting presents considerable challenges to mothers and children and that their efforts to enhance mother’s abilities to overcome these challenges and use visits to strengthen their relationships with their children had mixed results. The authors explore several factors that could account for these findings including the fact that the intervention created self consciousness in the mothers as well as heightened their own feelings of separation and loss. They end with a call for interventions that aim to help mothers process their early trauma and loss as a means of improving their ability to help their children manage their own difficulties during parent-child visits.
Vigil, J.M., Geary, D.C., & Byrd-Craven, J. (2005). A Life History Assessment of Early Childhood Sexual Abuse in Women. Developmental Psychology, 41(3), 553-561.
This article presents the results of an empirical investigation into the long-term effects of child sexual abuse (CSA) on women’s sexual and reproductive behaviors. Specific areas of impact investigated included (1) age of onset of menarche, (2) age at first sexual relationship, (3) reported desire to have children, (4) age at first childbirth, and (5) rating of physical attractiveness. These outcomes are studied within “a life history model for conceptualizing how and why CSA and other adverse childhood experiences may modify the timing of reproductive development and behaviors.” The authors predicted that CSA would lead to earlier expression of these sexual behaviors, because it “may cue low levels of parental and kinship investment, reduced family protection, and/or violate female victims' sense of attractiveness (i.e., by influencing their perceived chastity), resulting in reduced opportunity to accrue reproductive potential and reduced benefit to delay maturation.”
Six hundred and twenty three women from the Mid-west completed a self-report measure of childhood sexual abuse and the other relevant variables in the study. One fourth of the sample reported a history of sexual abuse before the age of 14. Group differences were found on all five variables between those with and without a reported history of childhood sexual abuse. That is, those who reported sexual abuse histories also reported earlier age of menarche, earlier age of first sexual experience, earlier age at expression of desire for children, earlier age at feeling ready to have children, and younger age at first childbirth. These findings held up even after controlling for socio-economic status (assessed with six variables such as family involvement with public assistance, community income), family characteristics (assessed with seven variables such as number of siblings, age of mother’s first childbirth), and personal characteristics of the respondent (assessed with variables such as being overweight, health problems, number of friends). The authors do not discuss the implications of these findings for clinical interventions and treatment. However, it may be useful for therapists working with clients who experienced CSA to be aware of the likely correlates found here, as a fruitful area for discussion and exploration.
Our Grant Program seeks to expand The New York Foundling’s capacity to support practice-related and academic research in the field of child welfare by awarding grants to doctoral students whose dissertations examine issues that will have a significant impact upon service delivery and innovative practice. The purpose of the grant program is to encourage doctoral students to make a commitment to conduct research that helps build evidence-based knowledge in child welfare and improve the lives of children, families and communities.
Click here to download the informational brochure and application for the 2011-2012 academic year grants program. For additional inquiries, please call 212-660-1311 or
The following organizations share in The Foundling’s mission to protect children:
New York Children’s Services (also known as ACS)
The New York City Administration for Children’s Services protects New York City’s children from abuse and neglect. Along with our community partners, Children’s Services provides neighborhood-based services to help ensure children grow up in safe, permanent homes with strong families.
Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA)
The Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies is the principal representative for nearly all the voluntary, not-for-profit organizations providing foster care, adoption, family preservation, and special education services in New York State. With 110 member organizations, ranging in size from storefront operations to some of the nation's largest multi-service agencies, COFCCA works with its members and government to ensure quality services for our most vulnerable children - children who have suffered abuse and abandonment and children at-risk
Citizens’ Committee for Children (CCC)
Since 1944, Citizens' Committee for Children of New York, Inc. (CCC) has convened, informed and mobilized New Yorkers to make the city a better place for children. CCC's approach to child advocacy is fact-based and combines the best features of public policy advocacy with a tradition of citizen activism. Casting light on the issues, engaging allies, fueling civic discourse, identifying improvements and envisioning alternatives has helped CCC make children a priority in New York City.
Child Welfare League of America (CWLA)
The Child Welfare League of America is the nation's oldest and largest membership-based child welfare organization. We are committed to engaging people everywhere in promoting the well-being of children, youth, and their families, and protecting every child from harm.
Prevent Child Abuse New York
Prevent Child Abuse New York was founded in 1980, as the Federation on Child Abuse and Neglect, by a network of county child abuse task forces. In 1982 the agency became the New York chapter of National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse. The organization’s name was changed to Prevent Child Abuse New York in 1999, when the national name was changed to Prevent Child Abuse America.
The primary purpose of The New York Foundling Fontana Center Research Advisory Committee is to coordinate all research activities at The Foundling and develop agency research policies and procedures. The Committee is comprised of New York Foundling senior executive staff and medical and mental health professionals as well as leading researchers from academic settings.
Fontana Center Research Advisory Committee
Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D.—Director of Research, The Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection
Margaret Becker, LCSW-R, CASAC—Regional Director of The New York Foundling’s North Manhattan programs.
Mary Boncher, Ph.D.—Chief Psychologist, The New York Foundling
Katharine Briar-Lawson, MSW, Ph.D., Dean and Professor, State University of New York at Albany School of Social Work
Chuck Caputo, MPS, CPHQ, Director, New York Foundling Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection, Director of Staff Training and Development and Youth Development, New York Foundling
Trudy Festinger, MSW, DSW—Professor of Social Work, School of Social Work at New York University
Oriana Linares, Ph.D – Associate Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University Child Study Center
Mel Schneiderman, Ph.D.—Director of Mental Health Services, New York Foundling, Former Director of The VIncent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection
Joseph Saccoccio, M.D. – Medical Director, New York Foundling