Author Archive

Center for Resilient Families training underway

Friday, August 11th, 2017

ITR’s Center for Resilient Families is adapting and putting into practice five parenting interventions that have been found through rigorous testing to be effective at strengthening resilience among traumatized families. The Center’s first training, in partnership with Implementation Sciences International Inc., is training professionals who work with families in the well-researched intervention Parent Management Training – Oregon Model (PMTO). The training got underway August 7-10 and will conclude with another week-long training in September.

To learn more about the Center and future trainings it will offer, visit

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2017 Seed Grants Announced

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

We are excited to announce the recipients of the 2017 Collaborative Seed Grant Program. These grants — $20,000 or less with a one-year time frame — support small research projects that advance the use of evidence-based practices in addressing pressing issues for children’s mental health. Each project partners with community organizations in Minnesota.  The goal of the program is to kickstart innovative ideas that have a likely chance of becoming larger, sustained research projects with external funding to improve mental health outcomes among Minnesota’s children.

Our mission at the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR) is to advance quality research, train practitioners in evidence-based practices, and disseminate information to help bridge the gap between research and practice in our field.

Mindfulness Training for Juvenile Diversion Youth

Community Principal Investigator: Hal Pickett, Director of Client Services, Headway Emotional Health Services

ITR Principal Investigator: Timothy Piehler, Assistant Professor, UMN Department of Family Social Science

This exciting project aims to reduce conduct disorder among adolescents in juvenile justice diversion programs. The study seeks to adapt a mindfulness-focused intervention called Learning to Breathe for this audience in order to improve adolescent self control. The project will use an experimental design known as a “microtrial” to gauge specific effects of the intervention, which could be a precursor to a full randomized control trial.

Excerpt from the abstract:

“Juvenile diversion programs serve as an important gateway in identifying youth at high risk for escalations in conduct problems. However, the vast majority of diversion programming currently being provided is not evidence-based, in part because there are few evidence-based programs developed specifically for this population and setting…The proposed research seeks to innovate conduct disorder prevention in the context of juvenile diversion through several strategies…The proposed microtrial will evaluate the ability of mindfulness-based skills training to impact self-control within an adolescent diversion population. …

The proposed research project represents a collaboration between a University of Minnesota research team and Headway Emotional Health Services, a community mental health agency that provides pre-court juvenile diversion services for youth offenders. The study will involve a randomized trial investigating an evidence-based mindfulness intervention (Learning to Breathe; LTB) for juvenile diversion-referred youth.”

Read the full abstract here.

Foundational Research for a Parenting Mobile App with Biofeedback for Latine Parents

Community Principal Investigator: Roxana Linares, Executive Director, Centro Tyrone Guzman and Veronica Svetaz, Medical Director, Aqui Para Ti

ITR Principal Investigator: Jennifer Doty, Postdoctoral Fellow, UMN Department of Pediatrics

This project will build and test a mobile app version of Padres Informados, a skills-based parenting intervention for Latine immigrants. The work will lay the groundwork for a robust app that includes wearable technology to provide biofeedback to parents as they go through the program.

Excerpt from the abstract:

“The long-term goal of this research is to reduce depression, anxiety, and substance use among Latino adolescents through a mobile application with parenting content and personal biofeedback. The goal of this proposal is to build and test a baseline mobile application with a skills-based parenting curriculum for Latine immigrants, Padres Informados. …

The first aim is to build the baseline application and test the prototype that has already been developed in interviews with 20-30 parents who completed an earlier survey. … The second aim is to assess the functionality of the baseline mobile app and the acceptability of using a wearable.

The mobile app will have the potential of increasing community accessibility to evidence-based parenting programs and enhancing existing delivery of the program by providing mobile supplementary information and goal tracking capabilities.”

Read the full abstract here.

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National Children’s Alliance highlights Center for Resilient Families

Monday, June 19th, 2017

The National Children’s Alliance recently featured Dr. Abi Gewirtz, Director of ITR and the Center for Resilient Families Director, discussing the Center’s work to reach children through their parents.

From Dr. Gewirtz’s post:

It’s no great surprise that much of our work in advocating for the well-being of children focuses on, well, the children—how to interact with them, how to help them manage stress and trauma, how to recognize symptoms and identify treatments.

However, a large body of evidence shows that intervening with parents to strengthen parenting can have enormously positive effects for the entire family, and that those beneficial effects only grow over time. This insight has had a strong influence on me, and I’ve spent much of my career developing, adapting, and disseminating tools to help parents become more effective in order to improve mental health outcomes for children.

It was a native of my adopted home, Minnesota, who really pioneered the idea that improving parenting is one of the most effective ways to improve children’s wellbeing. Dr. Gerald Patterson returned from service in World War II with an acute interest in how families get into trouble, and particularly what circumstances lead to delinquency in young people. He took a rigorous scientific approach to the problem and, unlike many other researchers of his day, didn’t just rely on what parents told him about how they parented. Over his career Patterson and his teams videotaped and meticulously analyzed thousands of hours of parent-child interactions to understand what leads children astray. Later, Patterson, together with his life partner Marion Forgatch and other colleagues at Oregon Social Learning Center, used that information to develop a model for more effective parenting.

The model was based on the idea of “coercive parenting”—an unhealthy and unproductive way of interacting with children. For a simple example, imagine a stressed-out mother returns from work to find her child playing video games instead of doing homework. The mother asks why the child isn’t doing homework, the child responds that there is no homework, the mother escalates the situation, yells at the child, and the child yells back at the mother. The conflict might end with one party yelling louder and the other giving up. Patterson found a strong correlation between the level of coercive parenting and subsequent poor child outcomes like substance abuse, arrests, and poor school performance.

Patterson, Forgatch, and their teams developed a set of parenting techniques that avoid coercion—like positive reinforcement or small, non-physical punishments like time-out or privilege removal—and found through research that training parents in these techniques yielded positive outcomes among children. This work resulted in the Parent Management Training – Oregon model (PMTO), a landmark evidence-based parenting intervention that teaches parents productive and healthy ways to be their children’s best teachers. PMTO has been adopted throughout the world and has been adapted by other researchers to serve more specific audiences, including military parents, Latinx immigrants, and parents of traumatized children.

Yet despite the widespread evidence of the effectiveness of PMTO and other parent-focused interventions, these evidence-based practices are not as widely used as they should be. I am excited to lead a new center funded by SAMHSA’s National Child Traumatic Stress Network, dedicated to putting trauma-informed PTMO and several other parent-focused interventions into the hands of practitioners throughout the country who can use them to improve parenting to support families affected by traumatic stressors. The Center for Resilient Families will put five leading parent-focused interventions into practice by providing tuition-free training to mental health practitioners around the country.

Read the full post here.

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Ambit Network Fall Conference: The importance of parenting in highly stressed children and families

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

A growing body of research has shown how working with parents can improve mental health outcomes for children exposed to traumatic stress, and an upcoming half-day conference from the University of Minnesota’s Ambit Network and Center for Resilient Families will highlight cutting edge work in this field. Reserve your spot at

The conference will take place the morning of Friday, Sept. 15, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Titled The importance of parenting in highly stressed children and families, it will feature keynote presenter Dr. Marion Forgatch, a key developer of Parent Management Training – the Oregon Model (PMTO), a landmark evidence-based prevention intervention that has been implemented around the world. Center for Resilient Families Director Abi Gewirtz and clinical psychologist Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya will also present.

Dr. Forgatch and her life partner, Minnesota-native Dr. Gerald Patterson, developed PMTO based on analysis of thousands of hours of footage documenting parent-child interactions to understand what leads children astray. PMTO is based on 40 years of research and has been shared with more than 50,000 families from all socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, and family types throughout the world. It has been adapted by other researchers to serve more specific audiences, including military parents, Latinx immigrants, and parents of traumatized children. Dr. Forgatch is Senior Scientist Emerita at Oregon Social Learning Center and founder of Implementation Sciences International, Inc.

Dr. Abi Gewirtz, director of both Ambit Network and Center for Resilient Families, is one of the many researchers influenced by PMTO and is the lead developer of After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools, a PMTO-based prevention intervention for military families. Dr. Gewirtz will present on her use of mindfulness research in parenting prevention interventions.

Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, a licensed clinical psychologist and Executive Director of the African American Child Wellness Institute, will present on an innovative culturally-specific parenting program she is involved in. The program, called Project Murua:  A Pre-meditated Parenting Boot Camp, is a 10-week intensive Afrocentric violence prevention and wellness promotion parent education and training program.

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper will make opening remarks.

The conference will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Hyundai Club room at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Accessible parking is available near the stadium. Refreshments will be served and an optional stadium tour will take place afterward. The registration fee is $25 and space is limited – reserve your spot today at

The conference is part of the Center for Resilient Families’ mission to implement parent-focused interventions and raise awareness about the importance of parenting in children’s mental health. Both the Center for Resilient Families and the Ambit Network are part of the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health at the University of Minnesota. Learn more at

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Announcing ITR summer fellowship recipients

Monday, June 5th, 2017

The Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR) is pleased to announce the recipients of our 2017 Translational Summer Research Fellowships. The fellowships help graduate students pursue collaborative research projects involving the development or expansion of evidence-based prevention or treatment interventions in children’s mental health.

The fellowship program supports ITR’s mission to bridge the vast gap between research and practice in children’s mental health. The range of the four projects reflects ITR’s commitment to bringing together researchers from across disciplines to solve problems.
One project will look at the effects of the “Early Risers” intervention on homeless families and identify which family characteristics predict differential responses. In another researchers will examine parents’ cognitive emotion regulation and its impact on child functioning. Using data from the military-parent-focused ADAPT intervention, one fellow will examine how parents’ inhibitory control might boost or lessen benefit from the intervention. A fourth project will investigate how treatments for major depressive disorder affect brain circuits.

Parenting trajectories of homeless parents in Early Risers intervention
Student: Sun-Kyung Lee | ITR faculty advisor: Timothy Piehler

Background: Homeless parents’ life stressors include negative parenting and high risk of exposure to child maltreatment, violence, mental illness and substance use (Gewirtz, Hart-Shegos, & Medhanie, 2008). The behavioral and emotional problems of children in homeless families are greater than children with low socioeconomic status and those in permanently housed communities (Lee et al, 2010). The purpose of this study is to examine intervention effect and identify what family characteristics predict differential responses to the parenting practices outcome in a preventive intervention. (Full proposal)

Parent self-regulation, parenting quality, and child behavioral outcomes in homeless families
Student: Alyssa Palmer | ITR faculty advisor: Daniel Berry

Background: The goals of the proposed project are to determine (1) whether parent adversity is related to parent cognitive emotion regulation and parenting quality in families experiencing homelessness, (2) whether parent cognitive emotion regulation moderates the relationships between adversity and observed parenting quality, and (3) whether the aforementioned associations impact child functioning in addition to the predicted direct influences of parent emotion regulation. This project involves secondary data analysis and behavioral coding of parent child interactions. The sample includes 105 caregivers and their 4- to 7- year old children who were recruited over a summer from two urban homeless shelters for a study on parenting and school readiness. (Full proposal)

Effects of a military parenting program: Inhibitory control as moderator
Student: Jingchen Zhang. ITR faculty advisor: Abi Gewirtz

Background: The goal of this study is to examine how parents’ inhibitory control might boost or lessen benefit from a military parenting program. Children in military families in which a parent has been deployed may be at increased risk of depression, anxiety and externalizing behavior problems (Chartrand, Frank, White, & Shope, 2008). After Deployment, Adaptive Parenting Tools (ADAPT; PI: Abigail Gewirtz) is a parent training program tailored to the specific needs of military families whose goal is to enhance effective parenting practices, thus reducing children’s adjustment problems (Gewirtz, & Davis, 2014). (Full proposal)

Pre-post medication brain functional network changes in adolescent MDD
Student: Shu-Hsien Chu. ITR faculty advisor: Bonnie Klimes-Dougan

Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a serious illness that occurs in 11% of adolescents (Avenevoli, Swendsen, He et aI JAACAP, 2015) and is associated with tragic outcomes including chronic adult disability and suicide. While some evidence-based treatments are available such as antidepressant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, these interventions are only successful in reducing depression in about half to two-thirds of cases. Research is urgently needed to better understand the biological roots of adolescent depression and to develop improved treatments. This project will explore functional network changes exerted by currently-standard treatments. (Full proposal)

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Save the date: ITR Fall Conference, September 15

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

The importance of parenting in highly stressed children and families

ITR’s fall conference will look at evidence-based interventions that focus on parents in order to improve children’s mental health.

The conference will take place at the University of Minnesota. We will be releasing information on speakers, times, and location soon.

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Dr. Gerald August to present at First Annual Dan Markingson Symposium

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

ITR Co-Director Dr. Gerald August will present on “The Role of the Family in Shared Medical and Mental Health Decision-making” at the First Annual Dan Markingson Symposium on the role of family in mental well-being and mental health recovery. Dr. August is known worldwide for his work on the importance of personal preferences, tailored interventions, and shared decision-making in mental health and addiction treatment for young people.

The half-day event will take place on Wednesday, April 26, from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Conference Center. Contact Leslie Bonnell for more information ( or 612-273-9820) or RSVP here. The lecture will also be livestreamed on YouTube.

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Ambit Network releases simple, accurate trauma screening tool

Monday, April 17th, 2017

The Ambit Network works to improve access to quality care for traumatized children by giving practitioners the skills and resources they need to address mental health issues with evidence-based practices.

One of the common requests Ambit receives from practitioners is a tool to quickly and accurately screen children for possible child trauma. With that in mind, Ambit developed and released the University of Minnesota Traumatic Stress Screen for Children and Adolescents (TSSCA) that:

  • Has high sensitivity (it screens in those children and youth with trauma symptoms)
  • Has high specificity (it screens out those children and youth who do not have trauma symptoms)
  • Is brief and easily administered by professionals and paraprofessionals in child serving systems.

The screening tool is already in use at agencies within and outside Minnesota. It is available to clinicians, case workers, educators, and any other staff who work with children ages 5 to 18 that may have experienced a traumatic event and are in need of services. Learn more and download the tool here.

An extensive review of existing trauma instruments went into developing the tool, combining common criteria and distilling down into the five most powerful and predictive items. For more information on the methodology behind the tool, contact ITR’s Chris Bray at or (612) 624-3748.

Ambit Network is housed within the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health, one of the several ways ITR is working to bridge the gap between research and practice in children’s mental health.

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Grants available: 2017 Collaborative Seed Grant Program

Monday, March 27th, 2017

The University of Minnesota Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR) announces the 2017 Collaborative Seed Grant Program. ITR collaborative seed grants are designed to support small research projects addressing important issues in children’s mental health that align with ITR’s mission, are identified by communities in Minnesota, and have a high likelihood of leading to external funding.

The mission of the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR) is to advance quality research, evidence-based training, and information dissemination focused on children’s mental health and development ages 0 to 18.  ITR provides basic scientific and translational prevention and intervention research leading to the implementation or enhancement of evidence-based programs and practices.

  • Two to three small grants will be awarded to support university-community collaborative participation in small research projects addressing important issues in children’s mental health (maximum award $20,000).
  • Proposed projects must be completed within one year. Projects should be designed to position the research team to apply for external funding to continue their program of research.
  • Letters of Interest are due Monday, May 1, 2017 describing the child and/or family issues you propose to focus on and your capacity to partner with a community entity in research.


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Training for pre-doctoral fellows in translational prevention science

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017


The University of Minnesota’s Center for Personalized Prevention Research in Children’s Mental Health (CPPR) would like to announce a training opportunity. The Translational Prevention Science Training Program is a NIMH sponsored T32 training grant to support pre-doctoral fellows in translational prevention science.

The goal of the Translational Prevention Science Training Program is to provide education and training opportunities for students aspiring to conduct research in prevention science in children’s mental health. The traineeship will prepare young investigators to conduct translational research leading to the discovery of new and better interventions that incorporate the diverse needs of children and adolescents who are at risk for developing mental, emotional, behavioral, and/or substance use disorders.

This is an announcement for a call for applications. We invite current first- and second-year graduate students enrolled full-time in Ph.D. graduate programs at the University of Minnesota to apply.

For the academic year 2017-2018, we expect to admit one pre-doctoral trainee to the program. The Research Service Award pays a 12-month stipend(s) plus some additional funds for travel and research-related expenses. In addition, the award pays a portion of tuition and health insurance. The traineeship will last for two years (through the academic year 2018-19), assuming the continuation of the training grant and the student’s satisfactory progress.

Duties and responsibilities as a trainee include: (1) Participation in a translational research apprenticeship as a member of a transdisciplinary research team, (2) Execution of a research project in collaboration with a child-serving community agency or system, (3) Participation in the Mixed Methods Interdisciplinary Graduate Group (MMIGG) and the CPPR’s Early Career Investigators Network (ECIN), and (4) Attendance at various colloquia series sponsored by The Center for Personalized Prevention Research, Institute for Translational Research, Center for Neurobehavioral Development, and/or Human Capital Research Collaborative. Trainees will be expected to present their research through a trainee forum as well as at local and national conference venues. All trainees are expected to either complete or already have completed training in the ethical conduct of research. In addition, trainees must remain in full-time residence at the University of Minnesota throughout the term of their appointment.

Eligible students must be United States citizens.


Application Instructions:

To apply, please submit the following materials (in PDF format) to Nicole Morrell (, by Friday, March 31st, 2017.

(1) Application coversheet

(2) 1-2 page proposal describing the research and scholarship you intend to undertake in the next two years, highlighting awards or recognition you have received, and making an argument for why assigning you to the fellowship would be consistent with the goals of the training grant (this part is critical, trainees’ research programs must clearly match the goals of the training grant)

(3) Copy of your graduate transcript (unofficial is acceptable)

(4) Curriculum vita

(5) Three letters of recommendation

The materials will be reviewed, candidates will be interviewed and selection will be made by a faculty training committee.


Criteria for Selection:

The criteria for selection include progress in research and scholarship, progress toward meeting program requirements, and fit with the mission of the training grant. The overarching goal of the training program is to educate and mentor the next generation of prevention scientists in children’s mental health.

The NIMH’s goal in awarding training grants is to contribute to the training of promising researchers who will contribute to its mission through research and future obtainment of NIMH research grant monies. As such, students are encouraged to provide evidence of the following in their applications: (1) the research project(s) the student is involved in and their role on those projects; and (2) the student’s experience and/or role in the publication process, if any.

For this year’s call for applications, eligible 2nd year and 3rd year students (i.e. current 1st and 2nd year students) are invited to apply.

If you have questions about eligibility or any other questions, contact Gerald August ( or Nicole Morrell (

Past and Current Trainees:
Calvary Diggs, Educational Psychology 2016-current
Kate Gliske, Family Social Science 2014-current
Eric Thibodeau, Institute of Child Development 2014-2016

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