April 2017 Newsletter
Reflections from the Fellowship Chair:
The Importance of Intellectual Humility
by Deborah Daro, PhD., Senior Research Fellow and Doris Duke Fellowship Chair, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
Using evidence to inform public policy requires the capacity to assemble relevant information, objectively assess it, and apply it in as fair and unbiased a manner as possible. The difficulty, of course, is being “unbiased” and “objective.” Such discernment is challenging when the empirical evidence base is broad and includes multiple, often contradictory findings. In addition to that, researchers will view these data through a lens built on certain assumptions (often based on good theory, as well as personal experience) about the relative merits of one policy option over another. One person’s truth is often another person’s fake news.
Success in translating research to practice requires research savvy, but also a dose of what researchers at Duke University call "intellectual humility," a personality trait that shapes our decision-making abilities.i What does this mean for young scholars? It means that, when approaching a difficult policy question, you look at all available data with an open mind. Be as critical of those studies that support your position as you are of those that contradict your assumptions. Be humbel about the strength of your data. Familiarize yourself with the work of those on the other side of the issue. Too often, what we read and whom we engage in conversation simply provide a wonderful echo chamber for our preconceived personal opinions.
To be effective, researchers need to escape their comfort zone. Find someone who disagrees with you and ask them about their position. How did they arrive at their conclusions? What information do they value and how will their policy alternative better address the problem at hand? Examining alternative explanations with an open mind may result in you changing the minds of your colleagues or changing your own mind. Creating the capacity to learn and change in ourselves and others is the most valuable contribution science offers the policy making process.
i "Cognitive and Interpersonal Features of Intellecutal Humility." Mark R. Leary, Kate J. Diebels, Erin K. Davisson, Katrina P. Jongman-Sereno, Jennifer C. Isherwood, Kaitlin T. Raimi, Samantha A. Deffler and Rick H. Hoyle. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, March 17, 2017. DOI: 10.1177/0146167217697695.
Doris Duke graduated fellows launched The Fellows' Blog in January 2017. This blog showcases Doris Duke fellows' original research with a goal of making content accessible to policymakers and practitioners. Aislinn Conrad-Hiebner and Katherine Paschall, both of Cohort Four, along with Elizabeth A. Byram, wrote a blog post examining the intersection of mothers' economic insecurity and their use of physical harm with their young children. Read their blog post here. If you are a fellow and would like to write for the blog, email Sarah Wagener, Fellowship Network Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doris Duke Fellows Updates
The Doris Duke fellows are having an exciting spring! Check out their updates about jobs, awards, publications, and more!
Francesca Longo, a Cohort Five fellow, has accepted the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Congressional Policy Fellowship and will be starting her fellowship in Washington, D.C. in September 2017.
Lindsay Huffhines, a Cohort Six fellow, was awarded an F31 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) for her dissertation research. These grants support promising doctoral students who have the potential to become productive, independent investigators in scientific health-related research fields.
Earlier this month, and Katherine Paschall, a Cohort Four fellow, and Scott Brown, a Cohort Six fellow, both presented in a symposium at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). The symposium was titled, "Long-term Impacts of Early Childhood Education Programs: New Looks at Familiar Promises." Katherine presented work she conducted with her Academic Mentor, Ann Mastergeorge, in which they examined impacts of Early Head Start on school readiness and fifth grade outcomes by length of enrollment; she also chaired the symposium. Scott presented work he conducted with his Academic and Policy Mentors (Beth Shinn and Jill Khadduri, respectively) on early childhood education enrollment and school readiness for young children who have experienced homelessness.
Starting July 1, Tova B. Walsh, a Cohort One fellow, will be an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Rutgers University School of Social Work, and an affiliate of the new Institute for Digital Innovation in Social Work, which aims to support technology-infused social innovations and interventions. Additionally, Tova has a recent publication in the Journal of Family Social Work entitled, “Mothers and deployment: Understanding the experiences and support needs of deploying mothers of children birth to five.”
Grace S. Hubel, a Cohort One fellow, was named Outstanding Faculty of the Year for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Excellence in Collegiate Education and Leadership (ExCEL) Awards at the College of Charleston. The awards are based on these criteria: 1) Extraordinary dedication to teaching. Respected by their peers and is seen by their students as compassionate, approachable, and nurturing; 2) Recognized by their colleagues as consistently exhibiting exemplary teaching skills, and 3) Committed to increasing awareness and respect for different persons. Takes steps to enhance diversity and inclusion on campus by creating and sustaining a welcoming and accessible campus environment for faculty, staff, students, and community members.
Francie Julien-Chinn, a Cohort Five fellow, has accepted a position of Assistant Professor at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa School of Social Work.
Tia McGill Rogers, a Cohort Two fellow, recently published a chapter with her Academic Mentor, Policy Mentor, and Dissertation Committee Member (Daniel J. Whitaker, John Lutzker, and Shannon Self-Brown, respectively) in the book, Prevention of Child Maltreatment. The chapter is titled, "SafeCare®: preventing child neglect through scaling-up and examining implementation issues of an evidence-based practice."
Featured Fellow Interview:
Each month, Sarah Wagener, Fellowship Network Coordinator, connects with a different graduated fellow to showcase the myriad ways in which Doris Duke fellows prevent child maltreatment and promote the health and well-being of children and youth.
This month, Sarah connected with Dr. Megan Finno-Velasquez, a Cohort Two fellow, about her research interests of child welfare and immigration policy. Megan is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at New Mexico State University School of Social Work.
Sarah Wagener (SW): What projects, research or otherwise, are you currently working on?
Megan Finno-Velasquez (MFV): I have been a member of a national coalition of organizations called the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare (CICW) since it formed about a decade ago, and its directorship was recently passed on to me. So, I’ve been very busy working on plans for transitioning the CICW to New Mexico State University (NMSU). We’ve been involved with policy advocacy and training/technical assistance to state child welfare systems dealing with immigration issues in the past; with this new political climate and shifting policies on immigrant detention and deportation, there has been a resurgence of interest and concern for immigrant children and their families. Right now, we’re reconnecting with our partners and are trying to assess the needs of child-serving systems to adequately respond to immigrant children and families in the context of a culture of fear. We’re working on reviewing existing knowledge, updating our resources, and establishing research priorities for the next several years. NMSU is a great home for this work—people here have been considering immigrant needs for a very long time. We have some very strong immigrant support organizations and model local policies here, and I’m eager to bring them into the national conversation. It’s a somewhat overwhelming, but exciting, time for the CICW.
SW: Your research interests—child welfare and immigration policy, maltreatment prevention in Latino immigrant communities, cultural competence in child welfare systems—have always been important, but seem to be of heightened importance in a time where xenophobia is a dominant political motivator. Do national, state, or local politics support or hinder the work that you do? How have you utilized supportive times to your advantage? How do you navigate around barriers?
MFV: Public interest in immigration issues and in my area of research seems to ebb and flow somewhat depending on the current political environment. The unique needs of immigrant families and our systems’ challenges to responding to those needs become more urgent with more restrictive immigration policies. In times and in places with more compassionate policies towards immigrants, my research doesn’t seem to get nearly as much attention as it does in times and places with more punitive policies and attitudes towards immigrants. But, this doesn’t mean that the issues aren’t present. Even during relatively quiet times, such as the last couple years of the Obama administration when executive policies leaned more toward protecting immigrant children, there have still been many challenges for immigrant children and families at risk of involvement with the child welfare system.
In my experience at a local level, you need to have at least one person in a position of power, one champion who cares about these issues, in order to be successful in this work. I have used more supportive political environments to create awareness and push forward protective policies and practices for immigrant families involved with the child welfare system. But, it’s complicated. Right now where I live, we have a mayor and a local government that are very sympathetic toward immigrants, but a state government that is not. Where I am, I don’t believe that policies to support best practices for child welfare in working with immigrant children and families could be implemented right now. You have to navigate around those political ideologies that conflict with what you’re trying to fix. Sometimes, that means waiting for an election and a new administration to enter. Other times, like on the national scene right now, you might need to jump into action: organize, educate, and pressure decision makers to support humane immigration policies that protect the rights and needs of children.
SW: In the work you do, you certainly collaborate with people from a variety of sectors. How are you successful in those collaborations?
MFV: I collaborate with lawyers often. I think we work well together because we bring forth different skill sets. In working with immigrant children and families, it is so critical to understand law, and the law is complicated! I think lawyers also appreciate my skills as a social work practitioner, social justice advocate, and researcher. Lately, I’ve also been speaking frequently with education and child development experts. I think cross-disciplinary collaborations are most successful when there is reciprocity, when there is something in it for everyone.
SW: How has your experience as a Doris Duke fellow influenced your current work and/or professional aspirations?
MFV: I still think that being a Doris Duke fellow was the most enriching and rewarding part of my PhD studies. I have formed lasting friendships and professional relationships that continue to push me to think deeper, be more innovative, and widen my lens on child well-being issues and solutions. It’s great to know that I don’t need to be an expert in everything; through this network of fellows, I can connect to an expert in almost anything! I collaborate on research with fellow colleagues who encouraged me to go into academia, and in my work, I have also crossed paths with Doris Duke fellows who have taken policy and research positions on state-level projects. When we have our fellowship meetings, I learn so much from what other fellows are doing, and file away ideas on how we might collaborate on future projects.
SW: What advice do you have to fellows who are interested in pursuing a career in academia?
MFV: This is a tough one to answer. It’s different for everyone, but I would say stay true to your passions and interests. Be honest with yourself about your priorities. Go anywhere where you will be supported, both professionally and personally, that will allow you to do the work you want to do. Listen to your thoughts and feelings about the environment and about the people with whom you work. You will do your best work when you are happy with your job.
SW: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MFV: Nothing other than to express my gratitude for every opportunity to be a part of this fellowship. These are truly some of the most brilliant, inspiring, and humble people I have ever met.
Noteworthy Resource: Building Community, Building Hope
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Administration for Children and Families has created a resource guide for child abuse prevention professionals who work to prevent child maltreatment and promote child well-being. Building Community, Building Hope can be downloaded here.
Policy Update: The Trump Administration Releases "America First" Budget, CSSP Responds
In March, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) issued a comprehensive statement on Mr. Trump’s “America First” FY2018 budget. CSSP describes how the budget threatens the health and well-being of children and their families and communities through a variety of channels, including the elimination of health and human services programs, cuts to housing programs and education, and increased funding for immigration enforcement activities likely to lead to family separations. The budget reveals the Trump Administration’s policy priorities, and those who work toward building health equity and the health and well-being of children and adolescents should be concerned. The full statement can be found here. The Administration’s proposed budget can be found here.