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Stimulus Grant Yields Child Abuse Update

Stimulus Grant Yields Child Abuse Update
Social work professor Penelope Trickett

USC School of Social Work professor Penelope Trickett has been awarded $1.4 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to study how and why child abuse and neglect increases the risk for substance abuse in adolescents.

The two-year stimulus grant, funded through the National Institute of Drug Abuse, was awarded to Trickett, the David Lawrence Stein/Violet Goldberg Sachs Professor of Mental Health. She and her team will look at the risk and resilience mechanisms underlying the relationship between child maltreatment and adolescent substance abuse.

“It is pretty well known that kids who have been maltreated are more likely to become substance abusers,” Trickett said. “But we don’t know why some of these kids become substance abusers, while others adapt quite well.”

The goal is for the research to help mental health professionals create more effective intervention and prevention efforts that target the most at-risk children, Trickett added.

The study is the fourth follow-up to a longitudinal study Trickett began in 2002, using the same set of 303 maltreated and 151 comparison adolescents. They ranged in age from 9 to 12 when first enrolled in the study.

The maltreated children were recruited from active cases in the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services while the comparison children were recruited from eligible families residing within the same Zip codes as the maltreated sample. They have been interviewed three times over the past years, and this new funding is important because the team will be able to follow up once again to now focus on substance abuse.

The most recent published findings that related to this group were in Child Abuse and Neglect in January. In that study – led by Trickett and Ferol Mennen, associate professor at the USC School of Social Work – researchers found that more than 40 percent of children referred to protective agencies are emotionally abused but not identified as such because of the lack of attention to, and lack of clarity about, definitions and classifications of what constitutes emotional abuse.

And because of this, children are not getting the help they need for the abuse that is likely endangering their mental health and well-being, research found.

Other findings related to this study group are expected to be published in the coming months.

The participants will now be between 16 to 20 years old when they are interviewed for the fourth time. The age range is a key time in the development of substance abuse, said project director Sonya Negriff. For example, 80 percent to 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking in adolescence. Early onset of smoking has been found to predict substance use.

As a condition of getting the stimulus grant, Trickett had to show how the study would create opportunities for jobs. Three full-time positions, including a project director and two project assistants, were created. Several work study and graduate students also will spend part of their time on the project.

As project director, Negriff manages all aspects of the study. This includes involvement in decisions about what questionnaires to administer, developing protocol for interviews, and training and supervising the projects assistants – Julia Hernandez and Irving Argaez – and all others who work on the project. She will also do data management, analyses and write journal articles.

Negriff has worked with Trickett on projects since 2001 and has been involved with the study group from the beginning. She said this follow-up study is a little more difficult because as the participants grow older and age out of the foster care system, they are more difficult to locate.

The team hopes to interview the adolescents and their parents/guardians again. Interviews will include assessments of depression, anxiety, stress, substance use and school performance of the teenagers.

Stimulus Grant Yields Child Abuse Update

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