Family environment study

Dr. Cathryn Booth-LaForce, the Charles and Gerda Spence Endowed Professor of Nursing, holds the keys to a vast research treasure that chronicles years of emotional, mental and physical health data for hundreds of Americans.
As a principal investigator for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (NICHD SECCYD), Booth-LaForce began collecting these data from a cohort of American children in 1991.
”This landmark, unique study has provided scientists, policy makers and the public with critical information about the importance of the family environment, the quality of childcare, and school experiences in shaping long-term optimal (or limiting) outcomes for developing children and adolescents,” Booth-LaForce said.

Thanks to past federal funding she was able to collect information and conduct research using the cohort’s qualitative and quantitative data for over two decades. As a result, the SECCYD is now one of the most-cited studies in the field of early learning.

Now, federal funding has become so thin that Booth-LaForce can’t pay herself or her students to carry out research, either examining existing data or gathering more. While her endowed professorship provides some support, it is not enough to keep the study going.
“By studying the same large number of children and families from birth through late adolescence, we have been able to provide answers to significant questions about child development that other scientists have been unable to address,” she said.

So much pertinent and evolving information remains to be mined from the SECCYD. The participants are now 24 years old and entering a critical stage in their lives.
“Federal funding to continue this important work is challenging to obtain,” Booth-LaForce said. “Meanwhile, the participants in the study are getting older and we are missing an exciting opportunity to find out how the early childhood and adolescent experiences of these young adults shaped their current successes and challenges.
“We have a wealth of data from birth onward that, with proper funding, students and I could use to address scientific questions that have not yet been tackled,” she said.