Family treatment courts and the COVID-19 pandemic: Barriers and facilitators to program implementation, client engagement, and recovery

Romain Dagenhardt, D., Richards, J.,* Liu, X.,* & Mersky, J. P. (2023). Family Treatment Courts (FTCs) serve child welfare-involved parents with substance use issues who are working toward recovery and reunification with their children. Research has linked FTCs to successful outcomes such as treatment access and completion and family reunification, but there has been less attention to factors that hinder and facilitate program implementation and client engagement. Moreover, little is known about how the shift to virtual services during the COVID-19 pandemic impacted FTC programs and the families they serve.

Impact of a family treatment court on child permanency and safety

Mersky, J., Lee, C. P., Liu, X., & Janczewski, C. (2023). Family Treatment Courts have been linked to promising effects on key child welfare outcomes, though few rigorous program evaluations have been conducted. This study employs a robust quasi-experimental design to evaluate effects associated with Family Treatment Court participation on child permanency and safety.

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Sexual Orientation: An Intersectional Analysis of Nationally Representative Data

Mersky, J., Lee, C. & Hami, D. (2023). This study compared the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences across intersections of sexual orientation, gender, race/ethnicity, and economic status. Data collected between 1994 and 2018 from 12,519 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health were analyzed in 2023 to generate adverse childhood experience prevalence estimates.

Intergenerational transmission of child protective services involvement

Janczewski, C., Mersky, J., & Lee, C. P. (2023).  Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with negative outcomes over the life course and across generations, including domestic violence (DV) and child maltreatment. However, no studies have examined the connection between parents’ ACEs and their child’s risk of child protective services (CPS) involvement or possible mechanisms of transmission. In addition to describing the prevalence and correlates of CPS involvement, our primary aims are to test whether parental adversity in childhood is associated with CPS involvement and whether DV victimization mediates the ACE-CPS association.

Adverse adult experiences and health outcomes: Racial and ethnic differences in a low-income sample

Mersky, J. P., Plummer Lee, C., & Janczewski, C. E. (2023). Extending research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), this study aimed to investigate whether the prevalence of and outcomes associated with adverse adult experiences vary among racial and ethnic subgroups. Survey data were collected from 1566 low-income women in Wisconsin using the Adult Experiences Survey (AES). Ten major adult adversities were assessed.

The long arm of maternal incarceration

Gómez, A. Mersky, J. P., Plummer Lee, C., Zhang, L., Shlafer, R. J., & Jackson, D. B. (2023). A growing body of research reveals a connection between maternal incarceration and various child development outcomes. Even so, little is known about how the timing of maternal incarceration may shape the social–emotional development of young children and the role of maternal mental health in mediating this association. Using a sample of 1097 mothers (18–52 years old, 47.6% white) and children (aged 12–48 months) receiving home visiting services in Wisconsin, this study examined the intergenerational effect of incarceration before a child’s birth on child social–emotional development, and whether this association was mediated by maternal mental health.

Linking adverse experiences to pregnancy and birth outcomes

Mersky, J. P., Jeffers, N. K., Plummer Lee, C., Shlafer, R. A., Jackson, D. B, & Gómez, A. (2023). Racial and ethnic disparities in birth outcomes have persisted in the United States for decades, though the causes remain poorly understood. The life course perspective posits that poorer outcomes of Black birthing people stem from heightened exposure to stressors early in life and cumulative exposure to stressors over time. Despite its prominence, this perspective has seldom been investigated empirically. We analyzed longitudinal data gathered from 1319 women in low-income households in Wisconsin who received perinatal home visiting services.

Trauma-Responsive Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Chopp, S., Topitzes, J., & Mersky, J. P. (2023). Research on the effectiveness of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Programs has revealed that VR services are less effective for trauma-affected and Black consumers. For instance, consumers with trauma exposure disengage from services earlier than their non-traumatized counterparts, and Black consumers benefit less from each phase of VR services compared to others. One midwestern state’s VR program sought to address these disparities by offering trauma-informed and trauma-responsive services that emphasize cultural responsiveness, racial equity, and strengths-based practices.

Increasing equitable access to home visiting: An independent implementation study of Family Connects

Mersky, J. P., Choi, C., Langlieb, J., Plummer Lee, C., & Chang, P. (2022). Home visiting programs often provide long-term services to at-risk populations, though briefer, universal interventions like Family Connects are increasingly being disseminated to bring home visiting to scale. Extending research by the model’s developers in North Carolina, this paper presents findings from the first independent implementation study of Family Connects.

Trauma Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (T-SBIRT) Implemented within TANF Employment Services: An Outcome Study

Topitzes, J., Bacalso, E., Plummer-Lee, C. T., Jonas-Gordon, S., & Mersky, J. P. (2022). The current study tested a trauma screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (T-SBIRT) interview protocol as implemented within Temporary Assistance to Needy Families programming. Using a non-experimental process evaluation and quasi-experimental outcome evaluation (N = 88), the study assessed four research questions. First, do T-SBIRT providers reach model adherence rates above 90%? Second, do over 90% of T-SBIRT completers experience the intervention as tolerable? Third, is T-SBIRT completion associated with decreases in mental health symptoms? Fourth, is T-SBIRT completion linked to reductions in positive mental health screenings?

Adverse adult experiences and health outcomes: Racial and ethnic differences in a low-income sample

Mersky, J. P., Plummer Lee, C., & Janczewski, C. E. (2022). Extending research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), this study aimed to investigate whether the prevalence of and outcomes associated with adverse adult experiences vary among racial and ethnic subgroups. Survey data were collected from 1566 low-income women in Wisconsin using the Adult Experiences Survey (AES). Ten major adult adversities were assessed, including items that reference an intimate partner or household member (e.g., physical or emotional abuse, substance use) along with other social and economic stressors such as homelessness and discrimination.

The Association between Family Physical Environment and Child Maltreatment

Zhang, L., & Topitzes, J. (2022). A body of emerging research has indicated that adverse family physical environment is related to parenting problems such as parent-child conflict, decreased caregiver sensitivity, and less parental emotional availability. Yet, no study has examined if family physical environment is also associated with child abuse and neglect. This study aimed to examine the relationships between family physical environment and different types of child maltreatment.

Mental health among university employees during the COVID-19 pandemic: The role of previous life trauma and current posttraumatic stress symptoms

Goldstein, E., Topitzes, J., Brown, R. L., & Jussel, A. B. (2022). Previous studies indicated that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has harmed the mental health of diverse samples. Adopting a trauma lens with a sample of university faculty and staff, this study examined risk conferred by previous exposure to traumatic life events (TLE) on pandemic-related mental health harm (MHH) and stress and the mediating influence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

Quasinatural experiment of postnatal home visiting: An independent impact study of Family Connects

Mersky, J. P., Choi, C., & Plummer Lee, C. (2022). Family Connects (FC) is a postnatal nurse home visiting program that has scale-up potential because it is brief, inexpensive, and universal. Three investigations have linked Family Connects to improved maternal and family outcomes, but no independent impact studies have been conducted to date. This study investigates a FC program in Racine County, WI that was implemented by a multimunicipal health department in partnership with a local hospital.

Impact of home visiting programs on parenting stress in low-income women: Findings from a community-based trial at an urban health department

Mersky, J. P., Janczewski, C. E., Plummer Lee, C., & Yasin, T. (2022). Four decades of home visiting research has yet to reveal clear implications regarding the amount and type of services required to produce intended outcomes like reduced parenting stress. This study compared the effects of two home visiting programs on parenting stress and examined whether depressive symptoms and social support were associated with stress levels and differential program effects.

Intergenerational transmission of parental adverse childhood experiences and children’s outcomes: A scoping review

Zhang, L., Mersky, J. P., Gruber, A. M., & Kim, J. Y. (2022). Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are among the leading environmental causes of morbidity and mortality. Extending research on within-generation effects, more recent scholarship has explored between-generation consequences of ACEs. Despite growing interest in the intergenerational effects of parents’ ACEs on children’s outcomes, this line of scholarship has yet to be coalesced into a comprehensive review. The current study is a scoping review on the intergenerational transmission of parental ACEs and children’s outcomes.

Helping nurses identify and report sentinel injuries of child abuse in infants

Cleek, E. A., Totka, J. P., Sheets, L. K., Mersky, J. P., Haglund, K. L. (2022). Sentinel injuries (SIs) are some of the earliest and most readily identifiable red flags of child abuse. SIs are unexpected bruising or intra-oral injuries in premobile infants and highly correlated with child abuse. However, SIs are not always recognized and reported as red flags of child abuse. Infants are left at risk for continued harm when SIs are not identified and reported. Although increasing nurses’ knowledge of SIs is important, child abuse researchers and behavioral theorists have identified that knowledge alone does not predict nurses’ behaviors when identifying and reporting suspected child abuse.

Advancing research on perinatal depression trajectories

Choi, C., Mersky, J. P., Janczewski, C. E., & Goyal, D. (2022). The current study aimed to describe and predict perinatal depression trajectories in a sample of low-income women from the first trimester of pregnancy to six months postpartum. The study sample consisted of 899 women in Wisconsin who received home visiting services. Eligible participants were screened for depressive symptoms by home visitors using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale at least three times across four time periods from the first trimester of pregnancy to six months postpartum.

Intergenerational effects of mothers’ adverse childhood experiences on children’s social-emotional development

Zhang, L., Mersky, J. P., & Plummer Lee, C. (2022). Despite the persistent hypothesis that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) have intergenerational implications, empirical research documenting the effects and the mechanisms of transmission remains underdeveloped. This study examined the intergenerational effects of mothers’ adverse childhood experiences on their offspring’s social-emotional development and whether the association was mediated by mothers’ mental health, adult adversity, and perceptions of paternal involvement.

Assessing polyvictimization in a family justice center: Lessons learned from a demonstration project

Romain Dagenhardt, D., Mersky, J.P., Topitzes, J., Schubert, E., & Krushas, A. (2021). There is a growing interest in developing comprehensive assessments that measure intimate partner violence (IPV) alongside other adverse events that correlate with IPV and compound its effects. One promising line of research in this area has focused on the impact of exposure to multiple types of victimization, i.e., polyvictimization. The purpose of this study is to examine the experience of administration of a polyvictimization tool from staff and client perspectives in order to inform future tool developments and assessment procedures.

A brief measure of workplace environment for health and human service professionals

Janczewski, C. E., Mersky, J. P., & Plummer Lee, C. (2021). Organizational characteristics are important predictors of workplace outcomes, but the length and complexity of validated instruments restrict their use in research and practice. This study tested a brief Measure of Work Environment (MWE) using data from 718 child welfare and 349 home visiting professionals.

A mutual process of healing self and healing the community

Mueller, D., Bacalso, E., Ortega‐Williams, A., Pate Jr, D. J., & Topitzes, J. (2021). Journal of Community Psychology.

Residents of urban American neighborhoods facing economic hardship often experience individual and collective adversities at high levels. This study explores how racially diverse adults experience stress, adversity, and trauma, and how they cope and heal in the context of their environment.

Prevalence and correlates of vaccine hesitancy in a sample of low-income mothers

Gilbert, R., Mersky, J. P., & Plummer Lee, C. (2021). Preventive Medicine Reports.
The US is facing a rise in vaccine hesitancy, delay, and refusal, though little is known about these outcomes in socio-economically disadvantaged populations. This study examines the prevalence and correlates of vaccine attitudes and behaviors in a diverse cohort of low-income mothers receiving home visiting services.

Toward the Assessment of Adverse Adult Experiences: An Initial Validation Study of the Adult Experiences Survey

Mersky, J. P., Plummer Lee, C., & Janczewski, C. E. (2020). Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.
The current investigation is a validation study of the Adult Experiences Survey, a seminal assessment of adverse adult experiences. Data were collected between July 2015 and June 2019 from a sample of 1,747 low-income women as part of a longitudinal study in Wisconsin, United States. Analyses of 10 adversities were conducted to assess item prevalence and internal consistency in the full sample and test-retest reliability in a subsample of 90 participants.

Validity of an expanded assessment of adverse childhood experiences: A replication study

Choi, C., Mersky, J. P., Janczewski, C. E., Plummer Lee, C., Davies, W. H., & Lang, A. C. (2020). Research has shown unequivocally that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are prevalent and consequential, but the field lacks consensus around how they should be measured. This replication study reexamined the construct and concurrent validity of the Childhood Experiences Survey (CES), an expanded assessment of 10 conventional ACEs and seven novel childhood adversities.

Adverse childhood experiences and psychological well-being in a rural sample of Chinese young adults

Zhang, L., Mersky, J. P., & Topitzes, J. (2020). International interest in adverse childhood experiences (ACE) is on the rise. In China, recent research has explored the effects of ACEs on health-related outcomes, but little is known about how ACEs impact the psychological functioning of rural Chinese youth as they make transition to adulthood. This study is aimed to assess the prevalence and psychological consequences of ACEs among a group of rural Chinese young adults.

Bidirectional Relations between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Children’s Behavioral Problems

Zhang, L., & Mersky, J. P. (2020). Research has shown that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) increase the risk of poor health and well-being, yet less is known about the pathways through which these life outcomes emerge….Therefore, the main purpose of this study is to explore bidirectional relations between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and children’s behavioral problems in a sample of low-income children.

Childhood polyvictimization and marijuana use trajectories

Plummer Lee, C., Mersky, J. P., Marsee, I., & Fuemmeler, B. (2020). Despite public sentiment to the contrary, recreational marijuana use is deleterious to adolescent health and development. Prospective studies of marijuana use trajectories and their predictors are needed to differentiate risk profiles and inform intervention strategies. Using data on 15,960 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, variable-centered approaches were used to examine the impact of childhood polyvictimization on marijuana onset, marijuana use from age 15 to 24 years, and marijuana dependence symptoms.

Home Visiting Effects on Breastfeeding and Bedsharing in a Low-Income Sample

Mersky, J. P., Janczewski, C.E., Plummer Lee, C., Gilbert, R.M., McAtee, C., and Yasin, T. (2020). Research suggests that home visiting interventions can promote breastfeeding initiation, though their effects on breastfeeding continuation are unclear. No known studies have assessed the impact of home visiting on bedsharing. This study aims to test the effects of home visiting on breastfeeding and bedsharing in a low-income, urban sample in the United States.

Translating and Implementing Evidence-Based Mental Health Services in Child Welfare

Mersky, J.P., Topitzes, J., Janczewski, C.E., Plummer Lee, C., McGaughey, G., & McNeil, C.B. (2020). Children in the child welfare system with mental health difficulties seldom receive evidence-based treatment (EBT) despite the abundance of validated interventions that exist. This manuscript describes two projects aimed at increasing access to EBTs. The first is a completed field trial of an adapted parent–child interaction therapy intervention with foster-parent child dyads…

Trauma-responsive child welfare services: A mixed methods study assessing safety, stability and permanency

Topitzes, J., Grove, T., Pangratz, S, Meyer, E. E., & Sprague, C. M. (2019). Trauma-informed or trauma-responsive programming has spread across many service sectors including child welfare. However, only a few evaluations of such child welfare programs have been published. The current mixed methods study assessed a trauma-responsive child welfare program implemented within a private agency located in the Midwest region of the U.S. The intervention combined specialized training, assessment, case planning, and case consultation into a trauma-responsive case management model…