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Supporting Young Families: The Role of Social Network Analysis


Young parents, especially teen parents, must depend on a network of support and multiple services to raise their children, achieve educational and financial goals, and keep their families healthy. Resources for expectant and parenting teens and young adults may come from many directions: supportive housing, child care, and employment services, to name a few – but often there is no clearly identifiable system that coordinates these efforts.

Pathways to Success, an initiative of the New York State Department of Health, aims to better connect parenting teens and young adults to key resources in Buffalo, Rochester, and the Bronx. The initiative funds one community college and one public school district in each community, with technical assistance provided by the BCTR’s ACT for Youth Center of Excellence. Specifically, ACT staff members Amanda Purington, Dora Welker, Divine Sebuharara, Mary Maley, Christy Heib, Jane Powers, and Heather Wynkoop-Beach have all played important roles on various parts of this initiative.

While Pathways grantees had a good sense of available services, coordinating these services to best serve youth in need was a daunting challenge. ACT staff recognized that social network analysis could be used in these communities to both create a distinct picture of existing networks and identify ways to strengthen collaborations.

Social network analysis is a set of methods for examining social structures and relationships within a network. Using the PARTNER social network analysis tool (created at the University of Colorado Denver), ACT staff worked with grantees to build customized online surveys and analyzed results in order to better understand collaborative activity within grantee networks and possibilities for new connections.

To define their networks, all the Pathways grantees were asked to compile a list of organizations with whom they already have relationships, or would like to be connected. ACT staff then developed PARTNER-based surveys tailored to each community. Next grantees distributed the surveys to their network lists, encouraging participation. Finally, ACT staff quantified the results, creating a visual representation of how the different organizations are -- or are not – connected.

ACT maps visual

These example maps show a city's grantees' (yellow dots) network with all collaborations (top) and then those at the "networking" and "coalition" levels of engagement.

Using the survey results, ACT staff created two types of network maps for the Pathways to Success initiative. The first map illustrates the level of collaboration. “Networking” is the most basic level: members of the network are aware of one another and may have informal relationships, but do not make any major decisions together. Networking is followed on the continuum by cooperation, coordination, and coalition, with collaboration at the highest level – when all major decisions are made collectively. The second map depicts frequency of contact among organizations. “Higher” and “more frequent” are not always ideal or feasible. The maps help spur discussion of what level of collaboration and frequency of contact would best serve young families in each community.

Three network indicators are also included in the analysis: 1) density -- the number of network ties relative to the total number of possible ties – which demonstrates the overall cohesiveness of the collaborative, 2) degree centralization, which refers to how well connected the members of the network are collectively, and 3) the level of trust among the members as a whole. For example, one community network had an overall trust score of 78%, indicating that a majority of responding organizations reported high levels of mutual trust. In addition to these whole network indicators, many other metrics can also be examined for each of the organizations in the network.

To discuss the findings, ACT for Youth held “data dialogue” sessions with grantees in each community. The network maps clarified where communication and collaboration are strong, and where there are opportunities to help the community better serve expectant and parenting young people. Some grantees were surprised that while their community was rich in resources, those resources were not being evenly accessed. Grantees also recognized a lack of coordination among certain organizations, resulting in some members of the network “doing the same job many times over.” Other grantees realized the need to focus on strengthening and building community systems to include organizations that may not have completed the survey, but should be at the table. For example, one group was surprised when they noticed that their county health department and a home visiting program had not responded to the survey, prompting the grantees to think about strengthening connections to include these valuable resources in future conversations.

Following these initial sessions, the grantees are holding meetings with their networks of community organizations. These meetings mirror the first data dialogue session, but allow an opening for the larger community to discuss how they can strengthen relationships in the entire network, bring others to the table, decrease duplication of services, and take steps to bridge gaps.

For the Pathways to Success initiative, this first implementation of the survey will serve as a baseline for the communities. ACT for Youth will help grantees administer the survey annually, documenting change over time, including stronger relationships among the vital organizations within each community.


The American Family: Who Cares?

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Urie Bronfenbrenner recorded by Cornell University Media Services in August 1976.

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New article: “Grandparent Coresidence and Family Well-Being”


Rachel Dunifon and Kimberly Kopko

Rachel Dunifon and Kimberly Kopko

The BCTR's Rachel Dunifon and Kimberly Kopko (with Kathleen Ziol-Guest) authored a new article that looks at the effects of grandparents living with families. Grandparent Coresidence and Family Well-Being was published in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science this summer.

U.S. children today have increasingly diverse living arrangements. In 2012, 10 percent of children lived with at least one grandparent; 8 percent lived in three-generational households, consisting of a parent and a grandparent; while 2 percent lived with a grandparent and no parent in the household. This article reviews the literature on grandparent coresidence and presents new research on children coresiding with grandparents in modern families. Findings suggest that grandparent coresidence is quite common and that its prevalence increased during the Great Recession. Additionally, these living arrangements are diverse themselves, varying by the marital status of the parent, the home in which the family lives, and the economic well-being of the family. Suggestions for future research are also proposed.

Grandparent Coresidence and Family Well-Being


“Women, Science and Motherhood” features Wethington

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Elaine WethingtonThe BCTR's Elaine Wethington talks about the career vs. motherhood choice that female academics face and her own decision to pursue her academic career in a new video produced by the Cornell Institute for Women in Science. Stanka Fitneva, professor of psychology at Queen's University, Canada, also describes her personal experience of having a child while working in academia. Additionally, Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development at Cornell and founder and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, offers commentary and historical perspective.

Women, Science and Motherhood: Then and Now

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2012 RCCP Conference connects international attendees around improving child and family care

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Sandra Bloom presenting

The Third International Conference of the Residential Child Care Project, In the Best Interests of the Child: Caring for Them—Caring for Us, was held May 9-11, 2012 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Three hundred people attended from the U.S. (27 states), Canada (6 provinces), England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Ireland, Bermuda, Australia (5 states/territories), and South Africa.

The conference engages professionals working with children and families to improve the quality of their care and treatment, offering attendees a unique opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences. Keynote speakers were:

Attendees sharing lunch

The event was marked by a strong sense of community and shared purpose, as indicated by attendee comments in the event evaluation forms:

I love that we had the ability to hear from and question true experts in the field.

I appreciated the depth of information on trauma and the brain.

I am re-energized and motivated.

and, in response to the question, "What did you like best about the program?":

The feeling of a wonderful community of people passionately connected to the healing of our children.


Conference program

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Video online of John Eckenrode’s presentation at the Picower Symposium

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Video is now online of BCTR director John Eckenrode's presentation, Preventing Early Adversity and Improving the Life Chances of Socially Disadvantaged Children and Families, at the Spring 2012 Picower Symposium, sponsored by The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.

View video here.

Preventing Early Adversity and Improving the Life Chances of Socially Disadvantaged Children and Families
As more research documents the wide-ranging and long-term impacts of early adversity on the developing brain and life course outcomes, there is an imperative to develop approaches to prevent exposure to such adversities in early childhood and to buffer the effects of toxic stressors by creating supportive environments for children. This presentation will review a 30-year effort to develop and test the effectiveness of the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) program, which consists of home visitation by nurses to low income first-time mothers during pregnancy and the first two years of their child’s life. Three randomized trials of the program have been conducted. Evidence will be presented showing that the program reduced children’s exposure to adversities in the form of child abuse and neglect. In addition, data will be reviewed showing the positive impact of the program on mothers’ life course development, thus improving the parenting environment for their children. Finally, results pertaining to the program’s impact on child development outcomes will be presented, consistent with a neurobiological impact of the program. As such, the NFP program could be considered an example of a neurobiologically informed ecological intervention for at-risk mothers and their children.



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