UNC, Penn State receive $16.5 million to study rural life's effects on children

September 10, 2002

CHAPEL HILL -- Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill interested in how children develop have been awarded $16.5 million from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for a new five-year study. They will examine biological, individual, family and community influences that affect rural children.

About 1,400 subjects from selected rural counties in North Carolina and Pennsylvania will be studied beginning in infancy and continuing over their first three years. In North Carolina, 800 newborns will be followed Wayne, Wilson and Sampson counties.

Principal investigators are both fellows at the FPG Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill. They are Drs. Lynne Vernon-Feagans, William C. Friday distinguished professor and coordinator of the Early Childhood, Families and Literacy Program in the School of Education, and Martha Cox, director of the Center for Developmental Science and professor of psychology.

"We want to understand how community, employment, family economic resources, family contexts, parent-child relationships and individual differences in the children themselves interact over time to shape the development of competence in rural children during their first three years," Vernon-Feagans said.

Project data will have important implications for national policy, said Cox, "particularly for the services most needed by these families, including Early Head Start and other early childhood programs, physical and mental health services and parental employment and training."

Results also "will provide the basis for prevention programs in the preschool years for children and families at risk for physical and mental health programs and later school failure," she said.

"Although this grant is funded for only five years, we hope the children will be followed as they make the transition to school in order to understand the risk and protective factors in early childhood that predict successful adjustment to schooling," Vernon-Feagans said.

The grant will include five projects with 23 investigators representing more than 10 disciplines, including education, psychology, human development, sociology, medicine and geography.

Other UNC-Chapel Hill researchers are Drs. Peg Burchinal and Debra Skinner, scientists at FPG; Kathie Harris, professor of sociology; Greg Randolph, clinical assistant professor of medicine; Desmond Runyan, chair of social medicine; and Lorraine Taylor, assistant professor of psychology. Other investigators include Drs. Donna-Marie Winn of Duke University and Robert Pianta, professor of education at the University of Virginia. Pianta also is a researcher with the National Center for Early Development & [CQ] Learning, which is based at FPG.

In Project I, directed by Dr. Mark Greenberg of Penn State, researchers will examine child-related factors by measuring child temperamental reactivity and self-regulation. Vernon-Feagans will lead Project II, which will focus on competence as a precursor of later skills acquired in school.

Cox and Dr. Nan Crouter of Penn State will direct Projects III and IV, respectively. The former will examine family factors and relationship processes associated with rural life in areas of deep poverty, while the latter is focusing on the impact of parents' changing job conditions on parenting and children's competence development.

Led by Dr. Linda Burton of Penn State, Project V will appraise community characteristics and their affect on families and children's lives.

Thirteen investigators are at Penn State. The project will run until mid-2007.
Note: Vernon-Feagans and Cox, respectively, can be reached at (919) 843-5623 or lynne_Vernon-feagans@unc.edu and (919) 966-3509 or martha_cox@unc.edu.

Graham Center contact: Loyd Little, (919) 966-0867 or loyd_little@unc.edu
News Services contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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