The Catholic University of America

Jan. 23, 2013

CUA Team to Survey Early Childhood Development Services


Faculty Shavaun Wall, center, and on either side of her, Lynn Mayer and Enrique Pumar, with graduate research assistants Marcela Blinka and Sean Hayes.

An interdisciplinary team at The Catholic University of America has embarked on a three-year project to identify best practices in early childhood development by Catholic schools and Catholic Charities nationally that will be used to enhance services in Washington, D.C.

Catholic University is partnering with the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic Charities, D.C., the National Catholic Educational Association, and Catholic Charities, USA.

The project — Catholic Community Partnerships for Better Early Childhood Development — is funded by a $525,000 grant from the Better Way Foundation. It brings together University faculty from the fields of education, social work, sociology, nursing, and law.

Shavaun Wall, the Euphemia Lofton Haynes Professor of Education and the project’s principal investigator, says the researchers will conduct in-depth examinations of exemplary programs that offer integrated, comprehensive approaches to early childhood services as a way to support young children in poverty and their families.

After documenting those successful programs, Wall says, the researchers will make recommendations to improve programs in the Washington area — one of the most diverse urban regions in the United States and one of the least successful in terms of educational outcomes.

The archdiocese’s Catholic Schools and Catholic Charities, D.C., both provide early childhood development services, but in different ways. They may be able to provide more comprehensive services by increasing coordination between them as well as with other community programs, notes Wall.

“We’re very hopeful that this project will reach down to the grassroots level to help provide services for families who need them,” Wall says.

The research team will contact school principals and Catholic Charities directors for their input. After analyzing its findings, the team will provide training for its partners and share ideas through the partners’ publications, conferences, and regional meetings.

“This is a great interdisciplinary project with solid research and applied benefits to children that will have a significant impact on the way our partners provide services for at-risk children and their families,” says Catholic University Provost James Brennan. “In addition to the many benefits to the community partners and families, the grant positions Catholic University among other leading universities in the nation that also support an integrated approach to university-community relations projects.”

In a letter to the Better Way Foundation, University President John Garvey notes that “leading this partnership is … an excellent fit” for CUA.

“Our faculty, especially our Department of Education, has long been involved in early childhood development through its research and teaching,” the letter states.

The letter cites “the ongoing collaboration” of the education department and CUA’s National Catholic School of Social Service in the national Early Head Start Research and Evaluation project, which began in 1996. Wall has led many early childhood grants at CUA and serves as co-chair of the national Early Head Start consortium’s disability work group.

In addition to Wall, faculty members working on the project include Lynn Mayer, assistant dean and assistant professor, social work, and Enrique Pumar, chair and associate professor, sociology. Seven other CUA professors engaged in related research topics are serving as members of an interdisciplinary advisory council on the project.

Council members with expertise in Catholic schools include education faculty members John Convey, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Chair in Education; Mimi Schuttloffel, department chair; and Len DeFiore, Brother Patrick Ellis Professor of Education. Council member Carole Brown, research associate professor, is an expert in early childhood education.

Other council members and their expertise include Sister Ann Patrick Conrad, associate professor of social work, social justice and social services; Elizabeth Hawkins-Walsh, clinical associate professor of nursing, child and family health; and Mary Leary, associate professor of law, exploitation of vulnerable people.



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