Helping children overcome the odds

Launched in 2016, the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being is a multifaceted partnership between the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Among the institute’s many goals: preventing childhood adversity, or lessening its effects, and shrinking the time for research to be translated into clinical practices.

One of the institute’s earliest initiatives is the Families and Children Thriving study, or FACT, led by researchers Joshua Mersky and Colleen Janczewski. It’s a long-term investigation of 1,000-plus at-risk Wisconsin children and families who receive home visiting services, which provide parents with resources and skills to raise healthy children.

Some 30.5 percent of children in Milwaukee have had two or more adverse childhood experiences, including abuse, neglect, bullying or an exposure to community violence. Children who face significant adversity often grow into adults with serious physical and mental health issues.

The FACT study seeks to pinpoint conditions that undermine health and well-being over a lifetime and across generations. “The hope,” Mersky says, “is to use this information to improve practices, programs and policies so that we are truly making a difference.”

The institute already assists home visit programs in Wisconsin through the Childhood Experiences Survey, which is used by social workers, nurses and other service providers. Developed by Mersky and James Topitzes, associate professors in the Helen Bader School, the survey measures adverse childhood experiences while also identifying family strengths.