Family Policy and Services
The typical family in the twenty-first century looks nothing like its counterpart from decades earlier. Families have grown smaller. Women are increasingly breadwinners and heads of household. Many adults are choosing to start families later in life, and more children are raised in single-parent households or by extended family. And more resources are available to help children with disabilities and their parents or caregivers.
In the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware, our faculty are pursuing research that is helping educators and professionals who work with diverse families in a variety of settings, including nonprofit organizations, schools, hospitals, human resource departments, legal aid and advocacy groups. Supported by grants and collaborative community partnerships, our faculty’s research is making a real-world impact by influencing legislators and policymakers to re-imagine what constitutes a traditional, “healthy” family in the modern world. Recent research includes how globalization has changed family structures and dynamics, domestic violence, and stress and mental health among young people experiencing some kind of social or family instability.
How can we build more inclusive communities? Ann Aviles’ research focuses on examining the policies, services and programs that impact the educational opportunities, material realities and mental health of youth of color who are experiencing homelessness or other forms of instability. Aviles also collaborates with community-based organizations to advocate for educational access, equitable funding and anti-racist systems and practices with, and for, students and families of color experiencing homelessness, poverty, incarceration, and mental health issues.
The special needs of a child diagnosed with autism will inevitably add some complications to family life, especially as the time and resources of one or more parents are intensely focused on providing treatment and interventions to the child. According to Sarah Curtiss, one helpful action families can pursue is to have regular communal mealtimes. Establishing a regular routine of family meals has the potential to create emotional connections and communal closeness, despite the inherent difficulty of mealtimes with an autistic child. Curtiss has developed an online toolkit called Mealtimes on the Spectrum, based on interviews with families and observations of their meals, and is now evaluating the toolkit’s effectiveness.
H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Human Services Policy and Leadership
How can communities be more accommodating to individuals with disabilities and their families? Steven M. Eidelman’s research and interests include community based and inclusive support to people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Recent publications have examined the cost of caregiving for parents of children with developmental disabilities.
How can the criminal justice system better protect women who have been violently abused by their intimate partners? Ruth Fleury-Steiner’s research focuses on improving the way that community agencies, particularly the criminal legal system, respond to domestic violence against women. Fleury-Steiner has numerous research teams that have conducted structured observations of protection order hearings in Delaware Family Court where women are seeking restraining orders; they have also interviewed survivors of domestic abuse about their experiences in court. Fleury-Steiner also volunteers extensively in crisis intervention and court support for survivors of domestic violence.
Infants and toddlers who are exposed to chronic stress may suffer lifelong consequences that contribute to mental health disorders, learning deficiencies and emotional instability. However, Jason Hustedt has found that the opposite is also true: that nurturing relationships can reverse damage caused by chronic stress. As co-director of the Starting at Home project, which is supported by a five-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Hustedt is researching how healthy, supportive relationships may be precisely what children need to overcome stress caused by poverty, abuse and/or neglect.
How has fatherhood adapted to the changing norms of American families? According to Rob Palkovitz, fatherhood has become a more engaging and dynamic responsibility. No longer the sole breadwinner in many families, many dads nowadays are fulfilling household roles that their own fathers did not.
Barbara Settles researches diverse families, grandparenting and intergenerational relationships, health and family and sexual education, and long term planning for family futures. Recent research projects have focused on family policy, alternative family forms and gender issues, and family genetics. She consults with preschool and daycare facilities in high-risk areas with a special focus on ways to involve parents more in supporting their child’s development and community action.
What is the relationship between globalization and family change? According to Bahira Trask, even as women are increasingly working outside the home, and likely traveling long commutes to labor-intensive jobs, domestic roles remain largely unchanged—women have continued to handle most domestic chores, raising the question about improvements in their quality of life. However, financial independence has also ushered in a new era for women globally, where women in unhealthy relationships are more likely to leave. Trask is a frequent member of United Nations expert group meetings, and in 2018 delivered the keynote address for the United Nations International Day of Families.
Funded Research & Engagement
Street PAR Health Project: How Street Identified Black Youth and Young Adults Understand and Experience Violence in Two Local Neighborhoods
PI: Ann Aviles.
Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning, University of Delaware
Project Based Learning and CBO Collaboration as Critical Tools for Student Learning: Cultivating Advocacy and Action to Support the Needs of Families and Communities in Delaware
PI: Yasser Payne. Co-PIs: Ann Aviles and L. Hicks.
Christiana Care Hospital
Paternal Resilience: Transitions in Nonresidential Fathers’ Involvement with Children in Low-Income Families
Co-PIs: Rob Palkovitz, K. Roy, J. Fagan.
National Poverty Center
Advisor: Barbara Settles
Ph.D. in Human Development & Family Sciences
Kelsey’s research interests focus on infant nutrition choices, expression of breast milk through breast pumping, and the impacts of maternal employment on families and implications for policy.
Advisor: Jennifer Carrano
Ph.D. in Human Development & Family Sciences
Ginnie is dedicated to supporting underserved communities both directly and indirectly through the use of community-based mixed methods and program evaluation research.
In the News
UD Prof. Bahira Trask discusses the impact of the global pandemic on work-family life April 30, 2020 American families have …
As the norms of American families have changed, so too has fatherhood. It’s become a more engaging and dynamic responsibility. …
Professor and chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS), Bahira Trask has been researching gender and family related …
As our global society diversifies and becomes more racially, ethnically and religiously complex, and as socioeconomic disparities grow, there are more …
Research Centers & Labs
The Autism in Context Research Lab, directed by Assistant Professor Sarah Curtiss, conducts research that is useful to autistic youth, their families and educational professionals. Research topics have included family mealtimes, sex education and the transition to adulthood.
The Center for Disabilities Studies works to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families through education, advocacy, service and research. It promotes empowerment and opportunity, accessibility and inclusiveness, so all may fully participate in – and enrich – their communities.
New Directions Early Head Start (NDEHS) provides pregnant women, infants, toddlers and their families with quality care and family services. They support families and their very young children with the goal to promote children’s success and families’ self-sufficiency through community collaboration and partnerships.