Megan Gilligan, Clinton Gudmunson, Suzanne Batholomae, Shane Kavanaugh, and Brenda Lohman will join Iowa State colleagues at a national conference. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Iowa State researchers to share promises, vulnerabilities of families at national conference

More than 50 Iowa State University student, faculty, and staff researchers in human development and family studies will offer their expertise in family health in areas including parental substance abuse, sibling tensions, and family finance at a national conference this week.

The meetings are part of this year’s National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) annual conference, Nov. 2-5 in Minneapolis. A series of preconference workshops on Nov. 1 will precede the event.

This year’s conference theme, “Families and Human Rights: Promise and Vulnerability in the 21st Century,” will foster conversations related to the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Participants will discuss issues of poverty, hunger, education access, gender inequality, incarceration, and discrimination, among other topics.

“The goal of the conference is very much international research collaboration,” said Brenda Lohman, a professor in human development and family studies who serves as family policy section chair of the council.

Lohman worked in tandem with Jennifer Crosswhite, the council’s director of public affairs, to arrange a special preconference session titled “Promoting Family Policy through the Legislative Process: An Interactive Skill-building Workshop.” The session will highlight learning the legislative process, building relationships with government officials, and testifying at committees.

The College of Human Sciences’ key initiatives serve to expand human potential and improve people’s lives. Two of those initiatives, wellness and personal financial literacy, will serve as focus areas during this year’s conference.

Helping children of parents who face substance abuse

Shane Kavanaugh, a doctoral student in human development and family studies, will share research related to the success of infants who are placed with relatives within the foster care system due to parental substance abuse.

“Substance abuse is becoming one of the top reasons why kids — especially infants — are removed from a home,” Kavanaugh said. “When children are removed from a home with substance abuse, they stay in the system longer than kids removed for other reasons, and they’re less likely to return to their parents.”

Kavanaugh found that when some of these children were placed with an extended family member, they stayed in the foster care system for a shorter time. He will detail these findings in a presentation titled “Infant Reunification: The Role of Kinship Placements and Parental Substance Abuse.” Kavanaugh earned the council’s Feldman Travel Award for the presentation proposal.

“The new research with kinship care showed that having a family member — or someone already known to the child — be the substitute caregiver actually improved the bonding relationship with the primary caregiver,” Kavanaugh said.

Co-authors Janet Melby, a program manager and adjunct professor in human development and family studies, and Yuk Pang and Randie Camp, two graduate research assistants, will join Kavanaugh at Wednesday’s presentation.

Understanding sibling tension in the adult years

Megan Gilligan, an assistant professor in human development and family studies, will chair a Thursday symposium focusing on siblings’ health and well-being across their lifespan. Her paper, “Sibling Tension and Psychological Well-being in Midlife,” co-authored by graduate research assistant Brianna Routh and Purdue University’s Gulcin Con, Marissa Rurka, and Jill Suitor, earned an Issues in Aging Focus Group award from the council.

“In this particular paper, I was interested in what relationship quality looks like between adult siblings,” Gilligan said. “Specifically, I wanted to know how tension affects siblings’ depressive symptoms.”

While Gilligan’s research often focuses on adult siblings as caregivers for their aging parents, she wanted to isolate the sibling relationship in her recent paper. She said she is excited to share findings with colleagues across the family studies discipline.

“One of the things about the sibling symposium that I’m really excited about is that it provides a framework for scholars to talk to one another,” Gilligan said. “It helps us all recognize that though we may focus on different developmental periods, we’re all studying very similar things. By presenting our research together, we can see connections across the lifespan.”

Following family economics

In addition to serving a lead role in the sibling symposium, Iowa State researchers will make a strong contribution to family finance discussions.

Clinton Gudmunson, an assistant professor in human development and family studies, will chair a Friday family economics focus group. He will join Suzanne Bartholomae, an assistant professor in human development and family studies and Human Sciences Extension and Outreach state specialist in family finance, for a Saturday symposium as the colleagues co-chair “Family Financial Socialization and Financial Passage into Adulthood.”

The Saturday symposium will include the presentation of two papers by members of Iowa State’s financial counseling clinic. The first, “Parent Financial Socialization and Decision-making about Student Loans,” includes research by Gudmunson, Bartholomae, and colleague Jonathan Fox, the Ruth Whipp Sherwin Endowed Professor and the director of Iowa State’s financial counseling clinic, and graduate research assistant Sara Ray.

“We’re looking at student decision-making,” Bartholomae said. “In the paper, we asked what types of information students use when deciding how much to take out for student loans — whether it’s the internet, their parents, or other sources.”

Focusing on family processes, adolescent behavior

Iowa State’s delegation will also lead discussions related to family health and parent-child relationships. Gudmunson will chair a Saturday series titled “Family Processes and Adolescent Externalizing Behavior.” During the discussion, researchers will share a number of papers focusing on topics ranging from family stress to working mother dynamics to the impact of family rituals.

“Our research team found a connection between the protective role of rituals related to vacations in preventing child delinquency,” said Juan Bao, a graduate research assistant in human development and family studies. “We suggest identifying effective and appropriate ways for families in different geographic areas to positively interact with their children.”

Bao worked on the project with Gudmunson and Kimberly Greder, an associate professor in human development and family studies and an extension specialist in Human Sciences Extension and Outreach. Suzanne Smith of Washington State University in Vancouver also served on the project.

Cheng Peng, a graduate research assistant in human development and family studies, and Dong Zhang, a postdoc research associate, will also present papers during the series.

Improving home visits with moms, children

This year’s conference will include a variety of poster presentations. “Triadic Interactions in Home Visiting: Setting the Stage for Quality” will give a number of graduate research assistants the opportunity to showcase an Iowa State project funded through Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV). Graduate research assistants Juan Bao, Melissa Clucas, Leslie Dooley, Liuran Fan, Neil Rowe, and Wen Wang served on the project. Dooley and Rowe will present the poster during a Saturday session.

Kere Hughes-Belding, an associate professor in human development and family studies, and Carla Peterson, an associate dean of the College of Human Sciences and human development and family studies faculty member, joined the students on their research.

“The poster presentation will show that when home visitors work with families, it is best for the visitors to engage the mother and the baby in interactions with each other,” Peterson said. “It’s what we call a triadic interaction —it’s the home visitor, the mother, and the baby all working together. Parents tend to be the most engaged and focused on child development content when there’s active participation.”

Promoting the Hilton Chair lecture series

Conference attendees will also learn of the College of Human Sciences’ Helen LeBaron Hilton Endowed Chair lecture series, which last year focused on the future of healthy families.

Electronic advertisements and video segments will present a collaborative perspective on the study of families, first presented as 10 lectures on Iowa State’s campus.

Lecture manuscripts will constitute a special 2017 issue of the National Council on Family Relations’ “Family Relations” journal, which has a circulation of nearly 5,000 educators, researchers, family practitioners, and family policy specialists.