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Mt. Hope Family Center awarded $8.5M to continue child maltreatment studies

September 15, 2023
outside facade including sign that reads Mt. Hope Family Center.Renewal grant funding for the University of Rochester's Mt. Hope Family Center will support inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations across several University and Medical Center departments and community outreach centers. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

The National Institutes of Health funding builds on a grant given five years ago to establish a multidisciplinary national research and resource center.

The University of Rochester’s Mt. Hope Family Center has been awarded a multimillion-dollar grant renewal from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the TRANSFORM Center.

TRANSFORM (Translational Research that Adapts New Science FOR Maltreatment) is a national resource center that conducts research, disseminates discoveries and builds on research and best practices to help train the next generation of interdisciplinary professionals committed to preventing and addressing child abuse and neglect.

The $8.5 million award, paid out over the course of five years, will allow a continuation of the work that began in 2018 when the multidisciplinary team received an initial $8.39 million grant from the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to create a Capstone Center on Child Abuse and Neglect as a national resource for child maltreatment research and training.

The grant renewal makes Rochester one of only three academic institutional partnerships in the United States to receive this prestigious award.

For Rochester the funding will support inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations across several University and Medical Center departments and community outreach centers: researchers from the University’s Mt. Hope Family Center will work alongside colleagues in the Department of PsychologySusan B. Anthony CenterSchool of Nursing, as well as the Medical Center’s departments of PsychiatryPediatricsObstetrics and Gynecology, and the Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimization.

The grant’s principal investigator is Sheree Toth, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Rochester and the executive director of the Mt. Hope Family Center. Toth is a leader in the field of child maltreatment whose collaborative work spans more than three decades, providing a solid foundation for longitudinal and prevention research.

The team is “incredibly excited” to be able to continue the work they began five years ago, says Toth.

Joining Toth in a leadership role is Jennie Noll who will work alongside Toth to direct the grant. Noll is a professor of psychology and will assume the directorship of Mt. Hope Family Center in 2024. Her experience administering large infrastructure grants and her decades of conducting longterm, intergenerational studies will compliment the leadership foundation of the TRANSFORM enterprise.

“I am honored to be counted among this amazing team of researchers and advocates whose mission is to promote resilience in the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable children and families,” Noll says.

Toth notes that many of the study participants are now parents themselves, allowing the team to look at the possible effects of their previous abuse and maltreatment as children on their parenting and their children’s development.

“One especially novel part of the grant is that we will study how parents’ own experiences of abuse and neglect when they were children influences not only their own health in adulthood, but also the health and well-being of their children,” says team member Elizabeth Handley, an associate professor of psychology and Mt. Hope’s director of research.

The grant will also make a new pilot study possible that examines whether adding a racial socialization component to an evidence-based trauma treatment will improve outcomes for Black children who experienced maltreatment.

Today the center reaches all 50 US states and 11 countries while engaging with scientific and lay professional communities alike to share 40 years of child abuse and neglect research to help raise awareness for a broad transdisciplinary audience. Team member Catherine Cerulli, a professor of psychiatry at Rochester and the director of the University’s Susan B. Anthony Center, looks forward to reaching even more groups.

“Next, we’ll focus on obstetricians, pediatricians, gynecologists, and law enforcement with trauma-informed care curricula,” says Cerulli, who also directs the Medical Center’s Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimization. “We’ll also work with theater producers on a curriculum and tool kit for educators that focuses on resilience to child abuse and neglect.”

Toth, Noll, Handley, and Cerulli are joined by project leaders from the University of Rochester and the University of Rochester Medical Center: Jody Todd Manly, Mt. Hope’s clinical director and a research professor in the Rochester Department of Psychology; Christie Petrenko, a research associate professor at Mt. Hope and the director of clinical training at the Department of Psychology; Vice Provost Melissa Sturge-Apple, a professor of psychology and University dean of graduate education; Patrick Davies, a professor of psychology; Mt. Hope research scientists Justin RussottiErinn Duprey and Zhi LiLinda Alpert-Gillis, a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry, the Department of Pediatrics, and at the University’s School of Nursing; Corey Nichols-Hadeed, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry; Natalie Whaley, a professor in URMC’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Jungmeen Kim-Spoon at Virginia Tech’s Psychology Department and Kristen Quinlan at the Massachusetts-based Education Development Center are also part of the team.

Messages of support from NY political representatives

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:

“I’m proud to have supported the University of Rochester’s Mt. Hope Family Center in its efforts to renew the Capstone Center designation. The TRANSFORM Center has served as a cutting-edge resource focused on child abuse and maltreatment, and evidence-based interventions to address these issues. New York children and families will continue to benefit from this groundbreaking work, and I applaud the MHFC for this prestigious honor.”

Congressman Joe Morelle:

“Congratulations to the University of Rochester’s Mt. Hope Family Center on this exciting investment, which I was proud to support. Helping families break the cycle of abuse and neglect can prevent a myriad of negative long-term effects for vulnerable children, which is why Mt. Hope Family Center’s work is so important. I’m grateful this funding will allow them to advance their work and secure their place as a national leader in assisting high-risk families.”

NY State Assemblymember Demond Meeks:

“I would like to thank the University of Rochester’s Mt. Hope Family Center (MHFC) for their efforts to address and resolve lifelong consequences of childhood maltreatment. As a result of their work towards protecting children and enhancing child welfare, MHFC has been awarded a grant for the renewal of their TRANSFORM Center. Resources such as MHFC’s TRANSFORM center are essential for understanding and developing long-term solutions against the trauma and harm we see throughout New York State. I will remain committed to supporting the physical, emotional, and mental health needs of our children. I am hopeful that this investment only marks the beginning of an ongoing commitment to the continued health and welfare of our future generations.”

NYS Senator Jeremy Cooney, 56th District:

“Congratulations to the University of Rochester on the TRANSFORM Center Renewal for the Mount Hope Family Center, now one of only two such centers in the nation. With this renewal, UR will continue to provide extraordinary care and support services to some of the most vulnerable young people in our community, a service that is truly invaluable. Congratulations again to the entire team at UR and the Mount Hope Family Center, Rochester cannot thank you enough for the incredible impact you have in our community.”

Monroe County Executive Adam J. Bello:

“The Mt. Hope Family Center builds stronger families through its evidence-based approach to programs and services for children, families, and caregivers. Monroe County is proud to be a long-time supporter of the Building Healthy Children Program for young women and their children. Congratulations on the Center’s renewal of the TRANSFORM Center by the National Institute of Health.”

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Category: Society & Culture