Rochester and Minnesota team receives grant to create center for child maltreatment studies

The University of Rochester's Mt. Hope Family Center (MHFC), in conjunction with the University of Minnesota's Institute for Translational Research in Children's Mental Health (ITR), has received a multi-million-dollar grant to create a national center for child maltreatment studies, becoming one of only three academic institutional partnerships in the United States to receive this prestigious award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

NIH's Eunice Kennedy ShriverNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) selected the Rochester and Minnesota multidisciplinary team to receive a "Capstone Center on Child Abuse and Neglect." The $8.39 million award over five years will support the center as a national resource for child maltreatment research and training.

The multidisciplinary team will partner with NICHD to create the TRANSFORM Center (Translational Research that Adapts New Science FOR Maltreatment Prevention) to prevent child maltreatment and address its consequences. Penn State received a similar award in 2017 and Washington University in St. Louis this year.

"On behalf of our entire TRANSFORM team, we are honored to be chosen by NICHD as a National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect," says Sheree Toth, the executive director of the Rochester-based Mt. Hope Family Center. "We will work tirelessly to advance research, policy, and training initiatives to prevent and address the adverse and lifelong consequences of child maltreatment."

Each year millions of children and adolescents in the US are reported to child protective agencies for maltreatment such as neglect, and physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Many experience additional trauma including exposure to domestic abuse, community violence, life-threatening illness or injury, or the sudden loss of a caregiver or loved one.

In 2016, Child Protective Services received referrals involving 7.4 million maltreated children, reflecting a 14.7% increase since 2012. An estimated 1,750 children died that same year due to maltreatment--a rate of 2.36 children per 100,000 in the national population.

The two principal investigators for the TRANSFORM Center are Sheree Toth, a University of Rochester professor of psychology and psychiatry, who is also the executive director of the Mt. Hope Family Center, and Dante Cicchetti, who was the founding director of the Mt. Hope Family Center before joining the University of Minnesota as theMcKnight Presidential Chair and William Harris Professor at the Institute of Child Development and research director of ITR.

Cicchetti and Toth are leaders in the field of child maltreatment, whose collaborative work spans over three decades, providing a solid foundation for longitudinal and prevention research. They are joined by six project leaders from the University of Rochester: Catherine Cerulli, professor of psychiatry and director of the University's Susan B. Anthony Center and the Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimization; Elizabeth Handley and Christie Petrenko, both research assistant professors at Mt. Hope; Fred Rogosch, Mt. Hope's research director; Melissa Sturge-Apple, associate professor of psychology and dean of graduate studies in Arts, Sciences, and Enginging; and Jody Todd Manly, Mt. Hope's clinical director. Susan Hetzel, senior scientist at Cicchetti's UMN molecular genetics laboratory, will be also be involved.

"We are honored to receive this substantial award from NICHD and thrilled that these resources will enable us to accelerate our delivery of the highest quality research and interventions for maltreated children and families," says Cicchetti.

The TRANSFORM Center's research will focus on two areas: the first examines the efficacy of Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) delivered before or after birth to high-risk, impoverished families. CPP therapy, an intensive intervention that focuses on parent-infant relationships for families at risk for child maltreatment, has been extensively evaluated and used at Mt. Hope.

The second is a long-term follow-up investigation of a large-scale Mt. Hope study of risk and resilience in school-aged children.Researchers will look at psychological, immune, endocrine, physiological, and epigenetic processes associated with the early deprivation, trauma, and chronic stress of child maltreatment in relation to possible premature aging, and current physical and mental health in adulthood.

The center is designed to serve as the capstone for research in child maltreatment and as a national resource for the field. The community engagement component of the project will train and support young investigators and other key child-serving professionals working with traumatized children and families. Through national collaborations, evidence-based information on child maltreatment will be shared to support the translation of research findings into practice.

Without support and services, child and adolescent victims of maltreatment face the possibility of a lifetime of mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical health problems. Abuse and neglect in childhood arerelated to a host of harmful adult outcomes, such as poor educational and occupational achievement, family dysfunction and domestic violence, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, antisocial behavior, substance abuse, as well as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer.

Advancing effective early interventions to promote resilience, and to share the knowledge gained to diverse stake-holders are paramount goals of the new center.

"We are so excited for the support that MHFC just received and for the great work that will result from this project," says Gloria Culver, the University of Rochester's dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. Research, clinical work, and community outreach "have been a hallmark of Mt. Hope and to now have them recognized by NICHD is affirming and very well deserved."

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