$1.2 Million for FMHI to Help Emotionally Disturbed Students

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 24, 2009) – A new $1.2 million grant is supporting an innovative project at the University of South Florida, known as Parent Connectors, that will train parents to help other parents of emotionally disturbed children with school.  Albert Duchnowski and Krista Kutash from the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences/Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute/Department of Child and Family Studies received the three-year award from the Institute of Education Sciences to improve outcomes for students who have emotional disturbances (ED).  They will partner with John Ferron from the USF College of Education’s Department of Educational Measurement and Research.


“Growing numbers of students are experiencing a devastating spiral of consequences associated with their inappropriate behavior in school and poor academic performance,” said Kutash. “Despite advances in developing effective practices, these students continue to have the poorest educational outcomes compared to peers with other disabilities.”


Parent Connectors will develop and document the feasibility of a unique intervention aimed at increasing the engagement of families in the broad educational development of their children.


“Students who have emotional and behavioral problems are the least likely to have families who are involved in their education compared to peers who either have other types of disabilities or no disabilities,” Kutash said. “Our project aims to enable these parents to be effective partners with school personnel to ensure the realization of their child’s potential.”


As part of the project, parents of children who have emotional or behavioral problems and who are familiar with navigating the education and mental health systems will be recruited to be trained as Parent Connectors (PC).  After training, the PCs will be assigned up to ten parents of children who have ED and will provide support, information and skill building through weekly telephone calls throughout the course of the school year.  In addition, a weekly meeting of all PCs will be held with a PC Supervisor to identify knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are drivers of parent involvement.  From these findings, a training curriculum and protocol for implementing the intervention will be developed.


Duchnowski and Kutash have extensive backgrounds in children’s mental health research and both currently serve as deputy directors of the Research and Training Center for Children's Mental Health.


“There is no more powerful a protective factor in the life of a child than a caring, empowered parent who is knowledgeable of and engaged in the critical facets of their child’s life,” said Duchnowski.  “We anticipate that once the intervention is fully developed, the Parent Connectors program will prove to be effective with a broad range of students exhibiting varying levels of social and behavioral challenges.”


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.