Human Development and Family Studies News

HDFS undergrad Jacqueline Pitone's research was selected as the First Place winner for the Social Science Posters at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum on April 4, 2014. Her research presentation was titled Early Childhood Educators' Beliefs and Practices for Teaching Letter Knowledge to Preschoolers. Jacqueline worked with Dr. Hope Gerde, her faculty mentor, on this project and poster presentation.

Jacqueline Pitone

In partnership with Michigan State Extension’s Greening Institute, Dr. Barbara Ames and a team of graduate students are evaluating the social and economic needs of un-or underemployed mature workers. In the present study, workers 30 years of age and older, currently involved in the process of foreclosure were interviewed. The goal of the project was to give voice to the struggles of these individuals and their families, and to pilot a post-foreclosure curriculum.

This study is part of a larger project investigating the multiple facets of long-term un-or underemployment, home foreclosure, and the age-specific needs of mature adults. Throughout this suite of studies, the research team, including graduate students Erica Tobe, Amanda Guinot Talbot, and Camaya Wallace Bechard, interviewed participants and key community workers throughout the state of Michigan. In total, the team has interviewed 37 un-or underemployed mature workers.

Presently, the main focus of this study is to evaluate and provide feedback on a post-foreclosure curriculum created by Extension educators trained in foreclosure counseling. The curriculum contains six units covering topics that span from (a) understanding wants, needs, values, and family strengths; (b) examining and understanding financial records; and (c) knowing available housing options.

Preliminary results reveal that mature workers are dealing with a variety of mental, emotional, and physical issues surrounding the loss of their home. Fear and anxiety for the future of their home and financial lives, feeling angry toward mortgage companies, and family stress were all prominent emotions expressed. Participants voiced that one of their greatest educational needs is information on moving forward post-foreclosure. This includes, acquiring tools for building a new and healthy financial future, plans to adjust or create a new family budget, and ways to restore damaged credit. 

A full study report will be forthcoming. For more information on this or other related projects please contact Camaya Wallace Bechard ( or Amanda Guinot Talbot (

The following related studies are currently in the process of publication.

  • Mature Workers Experiencing Under or Unemployment: Implications for Policy
  • "My home…What else do you want me to give up?": A Phenomenological Approach to The Experience of Un-or Underemployment & Home Foreclosure for Mature Adults

Infant mortality is a critical indicator of overall health. Of the 50 states Michigan ranks 38th for infant mortality and for African-American infant mortality, Michigan is ranked 43rd. Compared to the national rate of 6.0 per 1000 births, Michigan falls at 7.1. However, this rate hides key differences between racial and ethnic infant mortality. Caucasian infant mortality rates fall below the national rate at 5.5 deaths per 1000 births. However, African American infant mortality rate is 14.2 per 1000. Native American rates and Hispanic rates are equally as high. These health inequities are systemic. They reflect the social determinants of health, which is part of the Life Course Theory.

The Life Course Theory points to broad social, economic, and environmental factors as underlying causes of persistent
inequalities in health for a wide range of disease and conditions across
population groups.  Safe affordable housing, a comfortable living wage, a quality education, social connection and safety and job security are all factors that influence the health of people. These determinants of health lead to psychosocial stress and unhealthy behaviors which leads to the disparity in the distribution of disease, illness
and wellbeing.

Many initiatives are being made to combat and reduce the gap in infant mortality with objectives like Practices for Reducing Infant Mortality through Equity (PRIME). PRIME is a comprehensive strategy and practice model in state public health that will reduce racial disparities/inequities in infant mortality. It targets African Americans and Native Americans Use state/local partnership network to codify effective efforts in reduction and elimination. 

Michigan Family Impact Seminars targeted this topic at the Winter 2013 seminar which was offered in both Detroit and Lansing. Renee Canady, a Health Officer for Ingham County Health Department and Alethia Carr, former director of Maternal and Child Health Services presented at both seminars. Brenda Jegede, project manager for the MDCH’s Practices for Reducing Infant Mortality through Equity (PRIME) presented actionable steps for reduction at the Detroit seminar, while Melanie Brimm, Senior Deputy Director for the Department of Community Health, presented the Infant Mortality Reduction Plan at the Lansing seminar. Dr. Esther Onaga of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies is the director of the Family Impact Seminars.

Sherrell Hicklen, 3rd year PhD graduate student in Lifespan Human Development and Family Diversity concentration, was selected to participate as a junior mentor in the Young Scholars Program, to take place in March 2014 during the Society for Research on Adolescence conference. Supported by the William T. Grant Foundation and the Society for Research on Adolescence, this program is designed to provide support for junior and senior undergraduate students from ethnic minority groups interested in pursuing graduate work and/or careers in adolescent development. Sherrell will help provide guidance to the undergraduate participants in the program about how to navigate the graduate school application process and how to manage life as a graduate student. Sherrell stated, “I hope that I can help to inspire these scholars through my own experiences, and I hope to fundamentally shape their future academic and
career trajectories in exciting and positive directions.”

Parents who practice writing with their children can help their children improve literacy skills. 

Michigan State researcher Lori Skibbe and colleagues studied parents and their preschool aged children write pretend birthday party invitations. The researchers discovered that during this pretend writing task parents did several things to help their children (e.g., spelling out a word as a series of letters, Lucy is L-u-c-y). Parents who helped their children break down words into their corresponding sounds (e.g., Mmmmmom. What letter does mom start with?) improved their child’s literacy skills one year later.

Skibbe and colleagues also found children whose parents gave them opportunities to write the letters themselves had better literacy skills one year later. 

“Parents should offer many opportunities for their children to write with them as writing requires many of the same skills children need when learning how to read” said Skibbe, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. “I encourage parents to focus on the sounds that letters make when writing words and to allow children to be full participants in the actual writing process.”

“Always keep in mind, though, that writing should be fun and meaningful for children,” she said, “and there are many ways to do this. I encourage parents to help children write notes to their friends and family, make up grocery lists, and create to-do lists together. Focusing on literacy concepts, like letter-sound correspondence, is important, but it shouldn’t feel like work to the child.”

The study appears in the fall issue of Reading Research Quarterly. Skibbe is the first author. Her co-authors include Samantha Worzalla at the University of Illinois, Annemarie Hindman at Temple University, Dorit Aram at Tel Aviv University and Frederick Morrison at the University of Michigan. You can also hear Skibbe discuss this work as part of the Voices of
Literacy series here.