Studying Pathways to Adjustment and Resilience in Kids

Project Background

Where did this idea come from?

The SPARK Project grew out of Dr. Jackson's experience as a clinician and researcher. Her experience with children exposed to maltreatment provided some interesting examples in how different children manage the trauma they have experienced.

For example, Dr. Jackson saw that some siblings who were exposed to the same negative, stressful, and maladaptive events, were coping very differently, often times with one sibling experiencing minimal distress, while the other really struggled with their feelings and behaviors post-abuse. Our conversations with foster parents further confirm this phenomenon–that children who experienced the same trauma are coping differently.

This research is built on the idea that we need to understand what is helping the children who are successfully coping. We desire to have a better understanding of resilience using empirical data so that we can use this information to inform treatment and services designed to help children exposed to maltreatment to be successful.

What projects lead up to this one?

Seven different pilot samples were used to test the model, measures, and methods of this project. Dr. Jackson and Dr. Little have worked for several years on these pilot studies.

What is the basic process for the project?

We ask children in care, their adult caregivers, and their school teacher to provide information on how the child thinks, acts, and feels, and how he/she copes with stressful life experiences in their life (including past maltreatment or neglect). We also ask what their family/living environment is like.

Participants answer these questions on surveys on our laptop computers using a special computer program (ACASI, Audio Computer Assisted Self-Interview) that reads the questions out loud to people over a set of headphones. The surveys generally take parents 45 minutes to 1 hour, for children it usually takes three hours, and for teachers it often takes less than 20 minutes.

We provide child care and snacks during the survey times, and we meet at times that are convenient for families (often nights or weekends). We also meet at convenient community locations. Teacher surveys are conducted via a secure, online survey system.

For completing the surveys, both adult caregivers and children are provided with gift cards that increase in amount each time they complete the surveys. We meet with participants three times over the course of a year to complete the surveys.

Progress of Participants

Progress Thermometer

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times
KU Today