The UCLA Division of Population Behavioral Health congratulates Dr. Catherine Mogil, Dr. Nastassia Hajal, Dr. Hilary Aralis, Dr. Blair Paley, Dr. Norweeta Milburn, Wendy Barrera, MPH, Dr. Cara Kiff, Dr. William Beardslee, and Dr. Patricia Lester on receiving the 2023 Barbara Thompson Excellence in Research on Military and Veteran Families Award.  Their paper, “A trauma-informed, family-centered, virtual home visiting program for young children: One-year outcomes,” was published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development in 2022. The paper was selected from over 600 peer-reviewed papers published by a panel of accomplished scholars. Two other papers have been published from the FOCUS Early Childhood study in Contemporary Family Therapy (Mogil, et al., 2015), and Journal of Traumatic Stress (Hajal, et al., 2020). The latter was also selected as a finalist for the Barbara Thompson award in 2021 due to its novel and significant contributions to the field of military family research.

The Military Family Research Institute’s Excellence in Research on Military and Veteran Families Award selects each year’s winner through a rigorous process. No nominations or applications are accepted, and authors are unaware that their work is being considered. The goal of this award is to bring visibility to outstanding new research related to military and veteran families, increase the impact of scientific evidence on programs, policies and practices affecting military and veteran families, strengthen connections between researchers and practitioners, and raise awareness of current research on military and veteran families across disciplines.

The FOCUS for Early Childhood (FOCUS-EC) study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development to evaluate the FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) model for military-connected families with 3- to 6-year-old children. The FOCUS-EC intervention was developed at UCLA by Dr. Mogil and her colleagues to mitigate the impact of trauma on families and teach them skills that promote resilience in children. It addresses military-related family stress caused by childhood separation from caregivers, additional responsibilities on the at-home caregiver, reintegration challenges from transitions, and readjustment to parent-child relationships in the context of missed milestones and parent mental health symptoms.

This novel study utilized a virtual home visiting model to reach military families who are dispersed in civilian communities across California. In addition, it embedded observation of both parent-child interactions and whole-family interactions, which had not previously been done with military families. Notably, the lessons learned from this model were used to support mental health teams in adapting to virtual delivery of therapeutic services for young children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The award-winning paper presented the following key takeaways:

  • Families who participated in the FOCUS-EC virtual intervention exhibited greater long-term improvements in child behavior and parenting practices and reduced parent PTSD systems compared to those who accessed the online parent education curriculum. 
  • Telehealth delivery of FOCUS-EC in this study indicates the potential for in-home virtual delivery of preventive interventions for families with young children facing parent separations, parental trauma, and other types of adversity.

Findings from this study have informed future directions for research on FOCUS Early Childhood. Ongoing work includes:

  • Evaluation of FOCUS for Early Childhood for families in which a parent/caregiver has their own history of childhood trauma.
  • Identification of brain-based biomarkers of intervention-related change in FOCUS for Early Childhood. 
  • Development and pilot testing of FOCUS for Early Childhood delivered in Spanish.

Read the open access award-winning article here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10578-021-01181-y 

Photos of Dr. Catherine Mogil receiving the award on behalf of the team

Researcher biographies:

Catherine Mogil, PsyD, is an Associate Clinical Professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Her research focuses on intervention development and implementation strategies to better serve families facing adversity, including infants born into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, families involved in the child-welfare system, and military-connected children. She is the co-developer of several interventions including Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS), FOCUS for Early Childhood (FOCUS-EC), and Strategies for Early Educational Developmental Success (SEEDS). She co-chaired a NATO Science and Technology task group focusing on the impact of military life on children in military families.

Nastassia Hajal, PhD, is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences and Assistant Director of the Nathanson Family Resilience Center’s Early Childhood Core. Dr. Hajal’s research bridges basic science on developmental psychopathology, parenting, emotion, and neuroscience with clinical research on the prevention and treatment of traumatic stress. She is particularly interested in studying parent/caregiver emotion and young children’s emotional development. Dr. Hajal’s research has received multiple grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. A licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Hajal specializes in the assessment and treatment of child traumatic stress.

Hilary J. Aralis, PhD, is an Assistant Professor In-Residence in the UCLA Department of Biostatistics at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. She received her PhD in Biostatistics from UCLA in 2016. Dr. Aralis has engaged in extensive collaborative work within the fields of HIV, psychiatry, behavioral health, and education. She has served as the statistical expert responsible for the design and analysis of numerous large-scale studies aimed at assessing the health-related needs, stressors, and wellbeing of underserved populations. She currently serves as a faculty statistician within the Division of Population Behavioral Health.

Blair Paley, PhD, is a Clinical Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Director of the SEEDS Program in the Division of Population Behavioral Health. She also serves as Director of the Early Childhood Core, focusing on developing early interventions for caregivers with young children impacted by trauma, prenatal alcohol exposure, and other early adversities, as well as designing professional development opportunities for community providers who work in early childhood settings. She has served as Principal Investigator on a number of federally funded grants focused on the development and dissemination of interventions for young children and families in under-resourced communities.

Norweeta G. Milburn, PhD, is a Professor-in-Residence in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences in the Division of Population and Behavioral Health. She received her PhD in Community Psychology from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). Her research interests include homelessness, substance abuse, mental health, and family-based behavioral interventions. She has led grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Dr. Milburn is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association (APA). Her honors include being an inaugural member of the Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology, the Community, Culture, and Prevention Science Award from the Society for Prevention Research, and is an Honorary Professor in the Division of Psychotherapy and University of Cape Town Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health in South Africa.

Wendy Barrera, MPH, is the Data Director at the UCLA-UCSF ACEs Aware Family Resilience Network (UCAAN). She manages UCAAN’s data strategy and data activities and provides analytical support. Prior to joining UCAAN, she served as the Senior Data Analyst in the UCLA Division of Population Behavioral Health. Wendy’s areas of interest include leveraging data and technology to make data-driven decisions and evaluating behavioral health interventions.

Cara Kiff, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist serving children, adolescents, young adults, parents and families through her practice in greater Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Kiff earned her Bachelor of Arts from UCLA and then went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Quantitative and Developmental Psychology and a Doctorate in Child Clinical Psychology from the University of Washington. Dr. Kiff then completed a National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral fellowship at the UCLA Semel Institute. Dr. Kiff’s research has been supported by grant awards from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the American Psychological Association (APA).

William Beardslee, MD, directs the Baer Prevention Initiatives in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital, served as Senior Research Scientist at the Baker Center, and is the Distinguished Gardner Monks Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has a long-standing interest in developing and disseminating interventions to help families facing adversities and has been especially interested in the importance of family narratives and self- and shared understanding in enabling families to cope successfully. He has over 290 publications and numerous awards. He has been a proud member of the FOCUS team since its inception in 2004.

Patricia Lester, MD, is the Nathanson Family Professor of Psychiatry, Director of the UCLA Division of Population Behavioral Health and the Nathanson Family Resilience Center. Her research has been dedicated to the development, evaluation and implementation of family-centered prevention and treatment for children and families facing trauma and adversity, including the preventive intervention Families OverComing Under Stress (FOCUS). Her work has been supported by the National Institute for Mental Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Department of Defense, the US Department of Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, and multiple foundations.

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