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Drs. Albert Duchnowski and Krista Kutash Awarded a $1.2 Million Grant from the Institute of Education Sciences

A three-year, $1.2 million grant has been awarded to Drs. Albert Duchnowski and Krista Kutash from the Institute of Education Sciences to improve educational outcomes for students who have emotional disturbances (ED). Drs. Duchnowski and Kutash are from the Department of Child and Family Studies housed within the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences/Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute. They will partner with John Ferron, PhD from the USF College of Education.

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

The grant initiative, Parent Connectors, will develop and document the feasibility of an 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,” said Dr. Kutash. “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 theses findings, a training curriculum and protocol for implementing the intervention will be developed.

Drs. 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 Dr. 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.”

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