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Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

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Colloquium: ​Trauma in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

While the path from trauma exposure, to effect, to treatment is relatively well understood for typically developing children, we know much less about this path for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

As part of ITR’s colloquium series, we are excited to host researchers Dr. Adriana Herrera and Dr. John Hoch to discuss their recent work on identifying trauma exposure and traumatic stress among children with ASD.

WHEN: Monday, February 26 | Noon to 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: ITR Offices, 1100 S Washington Avenue, Suite 102 (map)
WHO: Dr. Adriana Herrera, ITR, and Dr. John Hoch, Fraser

Free parking is available and light refreshments will be served.

Drs. Herrera and Koch looked at currently identified prevalence and risk factors for trauma
exposure in ASD in order to understand the prevalence of trauma reporting among a clinical population.

The project aimed to improve detection of trauma exposure and traumatic stress reactions in children with ASD and to better understand their risk factors and behavioral expression of trauma. The results of the research will inform treatment of trauma among children with ASD.

The research was funded by ITR’s seed grant program, which seeks 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. Learn more at

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Become trained in delivering ADAPT

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Free intensive training offered in groundbreaking, evidence-based program for military parents
April 16-19, May 14-17, 2018 | Minneapolis, MN

Thanks to a federal grant, ITR is offering a tuition-free, two-week intensive training in delivering the groundbreaking parenting program for military families, After Deployment, Adaptive Parenting Tools (ADAPT). The training is open to any organizations that work with military families and is not limited to licensed clinicians.

The program is based on 50 years of research on effective parenting, and has been tested with more than 600 military families in randomized-control trials. This training marks the first opportunity for outside organizations to adopt the program and reap the demonstrated benefits for military parents and children.

Below is more information on the program. Additional details are available at

We will be hosting two informational calls to answer further questions:

  • Tuesday, Dec. 12 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. CST
  • Monday, January 8 from noon to 1 p.m. CST.

Those calls will be hosted on WebEx at and by phone at 1-866-282-7366, code: 741 362 502.

Contact Tanner Zimmerman, CRF Project Manager at or 612-624-7722 with any questions.

Military parents face unique challenges. Deployed parents may be gone for months, living a starkly different lifestyle than their family back home. Partners shoulder the burden of raising children and managing family affairs by themselves. Children are often anxious about the safety of their deployed parent, and the new rhythms of a one-parent household.

The challenges of parenting combined with the increased stress and potential trauma of military deployment can have serious consequences for the wellbeing of parents and children.

To address this need, researchers at the University of Minnesota developed ADAPT as the first and only “evidence-based” program  — meaning it is based on rigorous scientific research — that is designed to strengthen parenting in military families with school-aged children.

The program teaches parents how to regulate their emotions, build healthy relationships with their children and partners, and set their children up for success at home and in school.

ADAPT has been evaluated in randomized control trials (the gold standard of social science research) with more than 600 families. Results show that ADAPT significantly improves parenting, and parents’ confidence. And, in turn, effective parents have children who show fewer behavior problems, less anxiety and depression, greater interpersonal strengths, better self-esteem, and more positive attitudes towards school. In addition, parents self-reported reduced depression, PTSD, and suicidal tendencies.

About the training
ADAPT features intensive up-front training and coaching in order to ensure success and longevity in the organization. Organizations must send a group of at least three participants in order to qualify.

This training will take place in two four-day sessions,  April 16-19 and May 14-17, 2018. It will be hosted at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN. After the trainings, participants will receive weekly one-on-one coaching to provide feedback and support.

A federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is allowing us to offer the training and ongoing coaching tuition-free. Participants from out of town must cover travel and lodging expenses.

Long-term sustainability is a core feature of the ADAPT approach. The Center will assist organizations in sustainably implementing the program, including a “train the trainer” opportunity in 2021.

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Colloquium: High-risk drinking among adolescents and young adults

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

We are excited to host Dr. Megan E. Patrick, Ph.D., from the University of Michigan to discuss her research on high-risk drinking among young people. Her talk, “High-risk drinking among adolescents and young adults: Motivations, expectancies, and opportunities for intervention” will highlight implications for prevention and intervention.

The colloquium will take place on Tuesday, November 21 at 9 a.m. at ITR’s offices (1100 S Washington Ave).  Refreshments will be provided. To RSVP, e-mail 

Dr. Patrick‘s work focuses on the development and consequences of adolescent and young adult risk behaviors, including alcohol use, drug use, and risky sexual behaviors. Her interests include motivation and decision-making, the prevention of health risk behaviors, statistical methods for modeling behavior and behavior change, and web-based survey methodology.

High-risk drinking among adolescents and young adults: Motivations, expectancies, and
opportunities for intervention

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance of abuse among youth. Drinking often begins during adolescence and then escalates in frequency and quantity into early young adulthood. Research has typically focused on binge drinking (i.e., having 5 or more drinks in a row), but recent studies have highlighted that drinking also often far exceeds that quantity threshold. In this talk, Dr. Patrick will present an overview of her research on “high-intensity drinking” (i.e., having 10 or more drinks in a row) among adolescents and young adults, the extent to which motivations for drinking and expectancies of drinking consequences are associated with later alcohol use and problems, and implications for prevention and intervention.

To RSVP, e-mail 

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Program for military parents is expanding

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

ITR’s first-of-its-kind parenting program for military parents has been making a splash in the Twin Cities media as it expands and continues to show positive outcomes.

After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools (ADAPT), developed by ITR Director Dr. Abi Gewirtz, teaches parents how to regulate their emotions, build healthy relationships with their kids and partners, and set their children up for success at home and in school. It is rooted in more than 50 years of research on what makes parents effective, and several years of intensive research with military families.

The program is expanding to serve more families in a variety of settings: in-person groups, self-directed online, or with a coach over the internet. The program is open to military parents who have been deployed overseas since 2001 and have school-aged children. If you or someone you know is interested in being involved, click here.

The Star Tribune, WCCO-TV, KSTP-TV and the Minnesota Daily have all recently featured the program’s success in improving the lives of military parents and their children:

The skills required in leading a squad of soldiers in a combat zone are a stark contrast to those needed in dealing with a child who won’t pick up his coat off the floor. Gewirtz’s research focuses on prevention programs that promote child resilience among highly stressed families, including those affected by military deployment, war, domestic violence and homelessness.
– Star Tribune

In the US it’s estimated that close to 2 million children have a parent currently deployed. It’s the return home that finds parents looking for ways to ease back into the lives of their kids.

More than 300 MN national guard families are involved in the study. The research has shown to improve parenting confidence and skills, reduce PTSD symptoms, while boosting children’s behavior in schools.

As a result of her participation in ADAPT, Lenling said she has tools to better instruct and discipline her kids, as well as re-establish relationships with her family. “Mom doesn’t really yell anymore,” she said. “We’re just a much happier, more peaceful family.
– Minnesota Daily

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Podcast interview: Dr. Marion Forgatch of PMTO

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Dr. Marion Forgatch is a key developer of Parent Management Training-Oregon Model (PMTO), a landmark parent-focused intervention based on more than 50 years of research.

In this discussion on the Center for Resilient Families podcast, Dr. Forgatch explains the basics of PMTO and why an organization may be interested in adopting it.

You can listen below, or listen on your phone via iTunes or Stitcher. A transcript of the interview is below.

The Center for Resilient Families’s mission is to spread the use of parent-focused interventions that have been proven to be effective. The Center trained a group of clinicians in PMTO this fall and is offering tuition-free training in several other proven interventions over the next four years. To learn more or apply, visit

The Center is funded by a grant from from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and is housed within the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health at the University of Minnesota.


What is PMTO and how did it come to be?

It’s a program originally developed by Gerald Patterson, who by the way is a Minnesotan, who worked originally from a psycho-dynamic perspective in a residential clinic for children. They could help the children sometimes when they were in the clinic, but when they sent them home, they bounced back. And he wanted to know: what happens in families? It’s not just in the child. It must be something going on in the family.

So, he began going into the families to observe what happens between parents and children. From that, he started to understand that parents are really important, and that what clinicians need to know is help parents be very effective in raising their children.

What are some examples of the things the program teaches parents to do?

It teaches parents to be good teachers. In fact, parents are their children’s best teachers. You can teach through encouragement: catching your child doing the right thing, and noticing it, and encouraging them to do more. Or you can teach through correction: that is, catch them doing it wrong and criticize them, correct them and tell them, “Don’t do that.” But one of the problems with that is that kids don’t necessarily know what to do when you tell them not to do something. So, we teach parents to do something like give a clear direction their kids, instead of, “Pick up your shoes! Don’t you know they’re not supposed to be there?” Which, anybody who’s a parent has done something like that.

Instead, when you see the shoes on the floor and they should be in the closet or by the side of the door, to take the time to calm yourself down and say, “What do I want?” I want the shoes picked up and put beside the door. So how can I do that? I’m going to get up, I’m going to walk over to my child, I’m going to put my hand on his shoulder and look in his eyes and smile. I’m going to say, “Sammy, pick up your shoes and put them by the door please.” And then I’m going to do what we call “stand and hold.” I’m going to hang out there for 10 seconds with a pleasant expression on my face, simply waiting.

PMTO is an intervention that is adopted organization-wide, usually bigger organizations like counties, states or provinces. What generally motivates an organization to approach you about adopting PMTO?

They have a caseload of families with children who may be out of control, hyperactive, aggressive, noncompliant, sad. What they’re using isn’t working. Families are disappointed, clinicians are leaving their jobs because they don’t have job satisfaction because what they’re doing doesn’t work. So, they’re organizations that want to help families and have a lot of families that need help.

Your team is really focused on sustainable implementation for the long-term. What things go into that?

We do what is called “full transfer.” That is, we train a group of practitioners. When agencies select practitioners for this training, they want to select people who are going to be with the organization for some time, who have some leadership skills, who are clinically gifted. This is because, from the group that we train, we help the agencies select leaders to now train future generations.

So for example, in Norway about 20 years ago, we trained the first generation. They were clinicians from all over the nation. We trained 30 to certification. Those 30, in the years since, have trained 1,300 active clinicians and they’re serving 20,000 families. So, we trained 30 and then we helped the agency or organization have what we call a “governance authority” to oversee the training, coaching and fidelity monitoring of the team. And so you pay us at first, but then you pay your own staff and they’re the ones that carry the program forward.

What kind of results do these organizations see?

We’ve done a number of clinical trials. We randomly assign people to PMTO or something else – treatment as usual. What we find is — by parent report, teacher report and direct observation — improvement in parenting practices, and that leads to improvement in child outcomes. Things like police arrests, teacher ratings of externalizing behavior, children’s ratings of their own depression and association with deviant peers. Several positive outcomes in study after study.

Say I am someone in an organization and I’m interested in adopting PMTO for my organization. What are my first steps in order to proceed?

You would contact us and we would tell you about what it would take. We have a readiness questionnaire that we can talk you through or give you to fill out that says what we expect of you in order for you to be able to do this. Then, if we both agree that this is something we both want to move forward with, you would want to have meetings with stakeholders. The kind of stakeholders you would have would be agency leaders, practitioners, and parents. One of the things that parents say is that they used to sit in the waiting room while the kid went in to see the therapist and then they would go home, and they didn’t know what happened and didn’t change anything they did. Now [with PMTO] the parents are going into the room and it’s not that we’re blaming the parents, we’re teaching the parents to be really effective teachers. They love going in and learning how they can be more effective in raising their kids.

Learn more about PMTO here.

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Watch: Videos from Ambit Network/CRF conference

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

We had an amazing morning at our 2017 fall conference on Sept. 15. The conference focused on how working with parents can improve mental health outcomes for children exposed to traumatic stress.

You can watch the presentations below. To request a copy of the slides, e-mail us.

To learn about future conferences and training opportunities, subscribe to our e-newsletter.

Dr. Marion Forgatch
Fifty Years of PMTO: From Cradle to Community

Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya
Pre-Meditated Parenting & Fighting the Battle to Save Our Children’s Lives

Dr. Abigail Gewirtz
What do we know about supporting parenting in families affected by stressful and traumatic events?

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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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