University-Community Partnerships Research Award

These seed grants support research addressing new approaches for sustaining young children’s health and overall wellbeing locally and globally through collaborations among BU early childhood researchers and community collaborators. We are particularly interested in proposals that address threats to early childhood wellbeing including the negation of children’s human rights, chronic stress and trauma, poverty, inequities among the social determinants of development, health, and mental health, impact of structural racism, unequal access to high quality early care and education, discrimination based on class, race, sex, gender, and religion, immigration experiences, new and emerging diseases (e.g.COVID19), and the environmental consequences of global climate change that affect children’s lives.


2022 Awardees

1. Expanding Access to Evidence Based Preventive Care for Managing Early Childhood Stress: Development of a Brief, Interactive Tool for Early Childhood Educators

Project Investigators:

  • Jennifer Green, Ph.D., Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development
  • Donna Pincus, Ph.D., Boston University College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Community Partners: Andria Amador, Ph.D.; Elizabeth Muscolino, Behavioral Health, Boston Public Schools

Abstract: We aim to assist early childhood educators in creating supportive environments for young children in times of stress. Our proposal is responsive to indicators that child stress, anxiety, and trauma have increased in the past year duringCOVID19 and longstanding evidence that racially minoritized families experience gaps in accessing evidencebased mental health resources. The current study is responsive to the goal of the Behavioral Health Department at BPS to support the district’s University PreK (UPK) programs. Our partners at BPS expressed a need for more training for early childhood educators to support student mental health and respond to students who experience trauma. BPSis currently developingEarly Childhood Mental Health Consultation models, educator workshops, strategies to increase parental engagement, and a mental health services referral process. The current proposal complements this ongoing work by(1) developing an online preventive intervention for early educators on evidencebased practices for stress management, and (2) testing the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy of the intervention.Throughout the development process, we will partner with BPS early childhood stakeholders and community members to develop an accessible tool that reflects culturally sustaining practices and includes the voices and stories of members of the BPS early childhood community.


2. Reducing Health Inequities: Feasibility of a Head Start Oral Health Promotion Model

Project Investigators:

  • Corinna Culler, RDH, DrPH, Director School-Based Programs, Assist. Prof., Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine
  • Michelle Henshaw, DDS, MPH, Associate Dean of Global & Population Health, Professor, Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine
  • Kathy Lituri, MPH, RDH, Director, Oral Health Promotion, Clinical Assist. Prof., Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine
  • James Wolff, MD, MPH, Associate Professor, Boston University School of Public Health

Community Partners:

Abstract: Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is a serious condition that disproportionally impacts lowincome and minority children. The Head Start (HS) programs, all of which serve young children at high risk for ECC, often need to obtain outside partnerships to meet Federal Program Performance Standards focused on oral health. The proposed feasibility study is a first step in attempting to eliminate oral health inequities through policy development and integrated fluoride varnish applications into HS program operations. GSDM will build on its longstanding partnership with HS programs in Boston, Chelsea, and several surrounding communities to bring together an interdisciplinary research team. The team will use qualitative methods, including focus groups and key informant interviews with stake holders, to inform our understanding of the proposed intervention’s feasibility, acceptability, barriers, and facilitators. If awarded, the results of this study will support an application for an R21development/planning grant and ultimately an R01 fora randomized controlled trial (RCT) to test the efficacy of the intervention.


3. Building a Knowledge Base for the Prevention of Violence Against Young Children in South Africa

Project Investigators:

Community Partner: Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town, South Africa and True North, Vrygrond, South Africa

Abstract: The partnership between BU’s Center for Innovation in Social Work and Health (CISWH), the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town (UCT), and True North in Vrygrond, South Africa requests funding to build a knowledge base that will guide the development of a pilot project of an innovative, evidence-based, and community-informed intervention to reduce violence against young children. The purpose of the future pilot project will be to demonstrate that an evidence-based model of violence prevention that authentically engages families and their communities and addresses family needs in a context-specific, comprehensive manner produces improved outcomes in reducing risk factors for violence against young children in South Africa. This project is informed by: (i) research suggesting that a focus on gender-based inequalities as a driver for intimate partner violence and its intersections with the economic positioning of women is essential to efforts to curb violence against children and (ii) evidence connecting: (a) improving the quality of relationships between children and their caregivers and the quality of parenting overall and (b)addressing community norms regarding violence and the use of physical punishment, to reductions in risk factors for violence against young children in LMICs (Mathews, Govender, Lamb, et al., 2016; UNICEF South Africa, ND; African Partnership to End Violence Against Children and African Child Policy Forum, 2021). We are requesting support to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature documenting the state of knowledge on preventing violence against young children in South Africa and similar countries and to convene a panel of experts in early-childhood violence prevention and community meetings with stakeholders from the community of Vrygrond, the planned project site. Learning from the comprehensive review of the literature and the perspectives of both experts and community stakeholders will Inform development of the pilot project.


4. Motor Function and Language Development in Infants At-risk for Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Project Investigators:

  • Jennifer Zuk, PhD, Dept. of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, Boston University College of Health and Rehabilitation Science: Sargent College
  • Claudio Ferre, PhD, Dept. of Occupational Therapy, Boston University College of Health and Rehabilitation Science: Sargent College

Community Partner: Kristen Lindgren, MD, PhD, Child Neurology, Newton-Wellesley Hospital

Abstract: Rapidly emerging evidence suggests that the first two years of life signify the most rapid period of brain development, which coincides with formative motor and language developmental milestones. The neural basis for motor and language functions are postulated to emerge prenatally, as foundational networks in the brain have been observed from birth. To date, the relationship between early-emerging motor behaviors and subsequent language development is unclear. Whether early-emerging motor behaviors may be predictive of subsequent outcomes remains an important question, particularly in the event of perinatal brain injury. Therefore, the present longitudinal investigation will examine the developing brain in relation to early motor and language developmental milestones within the first year of life among (i) typically developing infants and (ii) infants with perinatal brain injury (due to stroke or prematurity). We will assess infants at 6 months to characterize behavioral and neural correlates of motor function, then follow-up at 12 months to assess language outcomes. This work will specify developmental interactions between motor and language capacities during this heightened period of brain plasticity and development, which carries important implications for improving approaches to early identification and intervention for at-risk infants.