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Research at HDFS

Dr. Russell Ravert has conducted several studies examining content posted at public internet-based social forums devoted to chronic illness. Currently, along with a faculty colleague and doctoral student, he is collecting and analyzing forum messages regarding the college experience of individuals with diabetes. Ravert’s premise is public web-based content is a form of naturalistic data that can provide authentic insight into challenges faced by individuals with chronic illness, and importantly, how they have found ways to successfully manage those challenges. This descriptive study involves content analysis of messages posted at eight public diabetes-related web-based social forums in order to identify common themes found in support/information requests and responses regarding preparing for and attending college with diabetes.

After several decades of high divorce rates and falling remarriage rates, a growing share of older adults have experienced divorce and are unmarried. Social scientists warn that this demographic trend may result in many older men being left without a designated family caregiver—no wife and possibly strained relationships with offspring, after divorce. Who will they turn to for care in times of need? According to a New York Times news story, former spouses are increasingly stepping in to meet this need and "the presence of former spouses at the hospital or deathbed isn’t uncommon anymore." Dr. Christine Proulx is a co-investigator of an exploratory study aimed at understanding more about this phenomenon from the perspective of women caregiving for ex-husbands. She and her co-investigator interviewed 21 women about their experience of caregiving for an ex-husband. Two works in press highlight the role ambiguity these women face in their non-kin caregiver roles, as well as the factors that precipitate the choice to provide care and the relational outcomes that result from it. Current analysis is focused on a subset of the sampled women who experienced various forms of abuse in their marriages, yet who still agreed to provide care to the ex-husband.

A study by Louis Manfra is designed to explore the interference effect of similarly nameable pictures on children’s short-term memory recall. Preschool-age children at the Child Development Lab (CDL) on campus are asked to complete a picture matching memory game with pictures that look different but have similar nameable features (e.g., two sets of dogs holding bones) and pictures that look different and have dissimilar features (e.g., a triangle and a square). If children rely on the verbal name given to the picture set (e.g., dog with bone), they should have lower performance when the pictures have similar nameable features. If children rely more on the visual aspect of the pictures, performance should not differ between the two types of picture sets. Several specific hypotheses are being tested within this study by varying the picture sets that are presented. The study began during the Fall 2011 semester and will continue through the Spring 2012 semester. Recently, Dr. Manfra received approval from the IRB to begin a third study exploring memory for number placement (location) when preschool-age children learn the order of numbers in a linear fashion (e.g., from left to right on a board) vs. a circular fashion (e.g., clock). This study will begin during the Spring 2012 semester.

Though divorce dissolves a romantic relationship, partners with children must continue to enact parenting roles in spite of their romantic split. Coparenting in post-divorce relationships requires that parents renegotiate previously established norms and boundaries in accordance with their separate households. Coparenting experiences can vary dramatically, thus this grounded theory research led by Drs. Ganong and Coleman focuses on how mothers and fathers establish and maintain coparental boundaries following divorce, as well as mothers’ and fathers’ motivations for boundary setting. Parenting plans and child custody, gatekeeping, and the repartnering of one or both parents have emerged as common themes throughout the research and are being explored in greater depth. Findings are likely to inform divorce education for parents, specifically in regards to predicting parenting conflict and/or cooperation post-divorce.

Selected Publications:

  • Ganong, L., Coleman, M., & McCaulley, G. (2012). Gatekeeping after Separation and Divorce. In L. Drozd and K. Kuehnle, Parenting Plan Evaluations: Applied Research for the Family Court (pp. 369-398). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Ganong, L., Coleman, M., Feistman, R., Jamison, T., & Markham, M. (2012). Communication technology and post-divorce coparenting. Family Relations, 61, 397-409.

Most of Dr. Jean Ispa’s research focuses on cultural and socioeconomic influences on parenting beliefs and behaviors and their implications for children’s development during early and middle childhood. Of particular interest are the implications of maternal directiveness, autonomy support, and warmth for children’s social and emotional development, and variations in these factors and relations by ethnoracial group. An additional line of research concerns best practices in the college-level preparation of infant/toddler teachers – how college-level courses affect students’ beliefs and practices regarding infant and toddler care, and the characteristics of courses and students that best predict excellence in caregiving skills.

Divorce and remarriage are relatively common occurrences for US families; about half of all marriages end in divorce, and nearly 75% of divorcing men and women remarry. An estimated one-third of all US children will live with a remarried or re-cohabiting parent before they reach adulthood. Divorce and remarriage are complex family transitions that profoundly affect individuals, their families, and communities in many ways, and these effects may last for years. Most researchers have focused on assessing the negative outcomes of family transitions. In order to more thoroughly understand adjustment of children and adults after divorce and remarriage (or cohabiting), studies of relationship development and maintenance are needed using a resilience perspective in which attempts are made to determine why some individuals and relationships function well while others struggle. Therefore, the specific aim of this multiple-project research venture is to examine how parents and children (and stepparents and stepchildren) develop and maintain family relationships. Using grounded theory methods, we are conducting several studies.

In the first study, we built a model of how and why stepchildren respond to stepparents. We found six diverse patterns by which steprelationships develop. This semester we are: (a) examining how nonresidential parents and children maintain ties together, and (b) exploring postdivorce coparenting relationships to see what makes them work well.

Dr. Marilyn Coleman is receiving funding from the Agricultural Experiment Station at MU to conduct these studies. Dr. Lawrence Ganong has received funding from the MU Research Council to support the steprelationship study. This past year, two graduate students have worked on these studies as research assistants, and two more students have worked on them as part of their research practicum experiences. This qualitative research program is ongoing until we answer all of our questions!

Selected Publications:

  • Ganong, L., Coleman, M., Feistman, R., Jamison, T., & Markham, M. (in press). Communication technology and post-divorce coparenting. Family Relations.
  • Ganong, L., Coleman, M., & Jamison, T. (2011). Patterns of stepchild-stepparent relationship development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 396-413.
  • Troilo, J., & Coleman, M. (in press). Nonresidential fathers’ identities after divorce. Family Relations.
  • Weaver, S., & Coleman, M. (2010). Caught in the middle: Mothers in stepfamilies. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 1-22.
  • Hans, J., & Coleman, M. (2009). The experiences of remarried stepfathers who pay child support. Personal Relations, 16, 597-618.

Risk-taking among adolescents and emerging adults (18-25 year olds, generally speaking) is typically discussed in terms of reckless, health endangering behaviors. The concern is warranted, given that behaviors including substance use, drinking and driving, and risky sexual behavior tend to be higher in this time of life relative to other ages. On the other hand, findings one’s path and developing the degree of autonomy and independence often valued in modern, western societies may require some degree of exploration and willingness to take risks. Dr. Russell Ravert is conducting research aimed at understanding emerging adult’s beliefs about what risks should be taken or avoided, and why. Ravert and a doctoral student have recently collected qualitative data regarding college students’ “philosophy of risk-taking,” and identified a set of distinct reasons the students said risks should be taken. They will soon begin piloting a measure that was created based on those results, with the hypothesis that certain attitudes are associated with reckless, health-compromising behaviors whereas others are associated with healthy, developmentally appropriate behaviors.

According to the U.S. Census, the divorce rate in higher order marriages (i.e., second, third, fourth, etc.) is significantly higher than first marriages, suggesting that many families experience transitions into and out of marriage on several separate occasions. Parents and children alike are impacted by these frequent transitions and may experience negative outcomes as a result. Previous research suggests that children form close relationships with stepparent figures, thus the dissolution of these relationships may pose specific threats to children’s well-being. This research, led by Dr. Marilyn Coleman, seeks to explore how, and under what conditions, children maintain relationships with former stepkin. Continuity within important ex-step relationships may allow children to maintain positive relationships with important attachment figures, and thus be less vulnerable to the potential negative influence of multiple family transitions. To date the research has examined claiming behaviors enacted by stepchildren both pre- and post-relationship dissolution, as well as “rules” established by stepchildren that govern their decisions regarding claiming. Structural and relational mechanisms have also emerged and provide insight into stepchildren’s claiming choices. The overarching goal of this grounded theory project is to develop a theory of young adult’s family identity following the dissolution of a biological parent-stepparent relationship.

Dr. Sarah Killoren and her colleagues at Texas State University are examining the role of older siblings in Mexican American 8th graders’ well-being, particularly their physical health and educational outcomes. They want to learn about how much 8th graders are similar to or different than their older brothers and sisters. Additionally, they focus on communication as a mechanism of sibling influence. They are collecting both survey and daily diary data from 8th graders and their closest-age older sibling and survey data from their mothers.

The Healthy Relationship and Marriage Education Training (HRMET) Project involves developing and pilot testing a marriage and relationship education curriculum, as well as in-person and distance education trainings for child welfare professionals, graduate students and other professionals, including Cooperative Extension educators, working with or preparing to work with adults and families. This curriculum will address healthy marriage and relationship skills for populations underserved in the general population and overrepresented in the child welfare system. Ultimately the project will yield a research and evidence based national training resource and curriculum that will promote the development of healthy relationships and marriages across the country.

The five-year HRMET project is funded by a $1.2 million cooperative agreement with the Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children's Bureau. Dr. Dave Schramm serves as the Project Co-Director. The project team includes Extension Specialists across eight states who are members of the National Extension Relationship and Marriage Education Network (NERMEN).For more information about the project, contact Dr. Schramm at 573-884-1995, or visit the HRMET website at

For two decades, we (Ganong and Coleman) have studied family obligations and responsibilities. We created the multiple segment factorial vignette method (Ganong & Coleman, 2005) to collect data for this program of research, most of which has centered on intergenerational responsibilities after divorce and remarriage. In recent years, however, we have been conducting studies on romantic partner’s responsibilities to each other. We also have been looking at the effect of blame and fault on family obligations. This research program has been funded by the National Institute of Aging (NIH), but recent research has been unfunded. Some graduate students have worked on these studies as extra-curricular activities.

Selected Publications:

  • Ganong, L., & Coleman, M. (2010). Reciprocity in intergenerational relationships in stepfamilies. In M. Izuhara (Ed.), Ageing and intergenerational relations: Family
  • Ganong, L., Coleman, M., & Rothrauff, T. (2009). Patterns of assistance between adult children and their older parents: Resources, responsibilities, and remarriage. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26, 161-178.
  • Hans, J.D., Ganong, L.H., & Coleman, M. (2009). Financial responsibilities toward older parents and stepparents following divorce and remarriage. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 30, 55-66.
  • Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. (2008). Normative beliefs about sharing housing with an older family member. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 66, 49-72.
  • Ganong, L. (2008). Intergenerational relationships in stepfamilies. In J. Pryor (Ed.), International handbook of stepfamilies: Policy and practice in legal, research, and clinical environments (pp. 394-420). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons. Reciprocity from a global perspective (pp. 129-147). Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.
  • Coleman, M., Ganong, L., & Rothrauff, T. (2007). Acculturation and Latinos/as’ beliefs about intergenerational obligations to older parents and stepparents. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 3, 65-82.

The primary goal of this study is to investigate the longitudinal coupling relationships between marital quality and a) self-rated health and b) depressive symptoms in two generations. Evidence shows that marital quality impacts health, with higher quality marriages associated with higher levels of well-being (e.g., Proulx, Helms, & Buehler, 2007) and poor quality marriages associated with poor health (Hawkins & Booth, 2005). Drawing on data from two generations of families in the Longitudinal Study of Generations dataset (LSOG; Bengtson, 2009), the first aim of this study is to describe the trajectories of positive and negative marital qualities, self-rated health, and depressive symptoms over 24 years of marriage within each generation. The second aim of the study is to examine the coupling relationships between changes in marriage and changes in health. An advantage of drawing on two generations is that differences between them in patterns of change and coupling can be assessed. We recognize that the marital relationship in older age is particularly salient (e.g., Carstensen, 1992) and, when combined with normative declines in health, might be important in protecting spouses’ health or in putting spouses at increased risk for poor health outcomes.

Dr. Jean Ispa’s research has focused on child development relationships in African American, Mexican American, European American, and Russian child care and family contexts. A project that is nearing completion was inspired by previous findings indicating that high maternal control seems to be less predictive of negative child outcomes and poor mother-child relationship quality in African American than in European American families, and in girls as compared to boys. Such variation suggests that it is important to understand the ways in which control is exercised in specific ethnic groups and with daughters and sons. Accordingly, Dr. Ispa has used inductive methods to identify the exact behaviors and emotional expressions used by a sample of low-income African American mothers’ when they physically interfered in toddler play. Their toddlers’ subsequent affect and acceptance or rejection of such interference is also described. Undergraduate and graduate students have worked as assistants on this project. Projects in their early stages use Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project data to study links between maternal intrusiveness when children were toddlers with maternal controlling behavior years later, when children were aged 10. We expect that ethnicity, maternal warmth, maternal ideas about control, child gender, and child temperament will affect relations among early parenting, later parenting, and child outcomes.

Researchers at the Center for Family Policy & Research (CFPR) serve as the Independent Evaluator (IE) for the Mississippi Building Blocks project, which is entering its fifth year. Although the goal of MBB has been to improve children’s school readiness and increase the quality of Mississippi’s early childhood (EC) programs, a related goal has been to use each year’s evaluation findings to refine MBB’s approach to professional development.

MBB provides comprehensive support to EC programs located across the state. The support includes coaching of classroom teachers, business advisement to directors, and funding for classroom materials and teacher education (Child Development Associate credential).

CFPR researchers, using quantitative and qualitative methods, have evaluated the impact of MBB on child outcomes, classroom quality, and changes in teacher’s instructional skills. Findings from year 4, indicate that the MBB program is very well received by EC program directors and teachers. However, upon studying the actual implementation of MBB, researchers noted that some MBB coaches did not fully implement all aspects of MBB’s classroom coaching model (e.g., using data from the fidelity tool and instructional checklists to inform the coaching process). Thus, treatment group teacher and child data were analyzed based on this finding (e.g., effective and ineffective coaching). The findings indicated the quality of coaching had a significant impact on teacher fidelity scores (teachers with effective coaching had higher fidelity scores) and some areas of child outcomes (children enrolled in classrooms with effective coaches scored higher on the Definitional Vocabulary subscale of the Test of Preschool Early Literacy (TOPEL).

As the IE, CFPR researchers examine the evaluation findings and provide program and policy recommendations. MBB uses the recommendations to strengthen and refine their comprehensive support to EC programs. Based on year 4 findings and recommendations, MBB is endeavoring to implement their intervention more consistently across treatment classrooms. This includes using data to inform the coaching process. During year 5, MBB will work with EC programs across the state serving children ages infant – kindergarten entry.

Dr. Louis Manfra is conducting two studies with preschool-age children from the Child Development Laboratory (CDL) on campus. The Mizzou Maze Study was designed to explore children’s executive functioning with a non-verbal, gross motor task. While walking through a four-foot high maze, children are trained to understand that certain colors and symbols provide information on what direction to turn (“turning rules”) when they encounter a “fork in the road.” The colors and symbols are then changed during the test trials to determine the degree to which children perseverate the previously learned turning rules or adapt to new turning rules. This study began during the Fall 2011 semester and will run through the end of the Spring 2012 semester.

Several years ago we conducted a study (Coleman & Ganong, 1995) about the content of stereotypes of different types of mothers (e.g., stepmothers, divorced mothers, married mothers). A few years ago, Marilyn Coleman and graduate student Jessica Troilo conducted another stereotyping study, which led to an internet study that we are conducting now with Mindy Markham and Jess Troilo.

Selected Publications:

  • Troilo, J., & Coleman, M. (2008) College student perceptions of the content of father stereotypes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 218-227.

HDFS offers an educational program to divorcing and separated parents called Focus on Kids (FOK). This program is in 50 counties in Missouri under the leadership of Dr. Dave Schramm. We ask parents in FOK if they would be willing to participate in research, and many agree. We (Ganong and Coleman) conducted a mailed questionnaire study of about 325 FOK parents. Questions on the surveys were inspired in part by Fishbein’s and Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior, although applying this theory to coparenting was not the sole purpose of the study. We are analyzing and writing papers from this project with graduate students who are working on the data set and papers as either research practicum experiences or as extra-curricular activities.

Selected Publications:

  • Ganong, L., Coleman, M., & McCaulley, G. (2012). Gatekeeping after Separation and Divorce. In L. Drozd and K. Kuehnle, Parenting Plan Evaluations: Applied Research for the Family Court (pp. 369-398). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Ganong, L., Coleman, M., Stafford Markham, M., & Rothrauff, T. (2011). Predicting post-divorce coparenting communication. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 52, 1-18.
  • Markham, M., Ganong, L., & Coleman, M. (2007). Coparental identity and mothers’ cooperation in coparental relationships. Family Relations, 56, 369-377.
  • Markham., M.. & Coleman, M. (in press). The good, the bad, and the ugly: Divorced mothers experiences with co-parenting. Family Relations

Older siblings are important socializing agents of girls’ sexuality, yet few studies have focused on sibling similarities and differences in sexual experiences and attitudes. Even fewer studies have examined the mechanisms through which siblings are alike or different. Examining sibling similarities is important because youth are more likely to imitate their older siblings when they view them as positive role models. Consequently, sibling similarities may reveal the influence older siblings have on adolescents’ experiences and attitudes. Dr. Sarah Killoren is conducting a study on similarities in sisters’ sexual experiences and attitudes using both survey and observational data collection procedures.

All parents want their kids to grow up to be good kids—kids who treat others with respect and kindness. We also desire our kids to make a positive impact on others. Prosocial behaviors, includes such things as sharing, donating, altruism, volunteerism, are important markers of good social functioning, strong moral character, and personal health. The bases and correlates of positive social and moral development is the focus of the Positive Youth and Families lab. Various projects examine these issues using a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. Currently, there are four main lines of research: a) examining a NSF-funded, ecological-stress model of youth health and well being in Latino/as, b) studies investigating prosocial development in children and adolescents across several countries, c) studies on the temperament and parenting bases of prosocial and antisocial behaviors, and d) investigations of moral conscience and altruism in childhood and adolescence. Dr. Gustavo Carlo and the research team conduct research in Missouri but also collaborate with scholars across the globe and across the nation.

Previous research conducted by Drs. Ganong, Coleman, and Jamison explored stepparents’ attempts to build relationships with stepchildren in remarried or cohabiting households (i.e., affinity seeking). Results indicated that, in most cases, stepparents made clear attempts to build and maintain relationships with stepchildren, while stepchildren rarely did the same. Further analysis of these data suggested that instead of engaging in affinity seeking, stepchildren enacted claiming behaviors (i.e. claiming stepparents as family). The current research, led by Drs. Ganong and Coleman, expands on the previous affinity-seeking project by exploring the specific behaviors used by stepchildren to indicate claiming, namely language use, seeking to be adopted, and thinking about the stepparent as a parent substitute. The research aims to improve understanding about the motivations and processes related to stepchildren’s claiming behaviors so that family professionals can better serve stepfamilies and contribute to their well-being.

Selected Publications:

  • Ganong, L., Coleman, M., & Jamison, T. (2011). Patterns of stepchild-stepparent relationship development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 396-413.

Although several studies have been conducted on the effects of conflict on stepfamily member well-being, little is known about how family members emotionally manage stepfamily conflicts and consequently protect themselves from negative health outcomes. Drawing on a daily diary method, in this study we (Coleman, Ganong, and doctoral candidate Nick Frye) examine individual family members’ abilities to regulate their emotions in response to daily conflicts, and to assess how this emotion regulation relates to their own and other family members’ well-being (i.e., perceived physical health & mental health).

Stepfamilies are more common today than any other point in U.S. history and estimates suggest that most stepfamilies include children from one or more previous partnerships. Coupled with this demographic change is the fact that individuals are living longer, healthier lives than in previous decades. This increase in life longevity means that older individuals are able to serve in intergenerational family roles for extended periods of time. Logically, increases in both the number of stepfamilies and life trajectories of older individuals results in an increase in stepgrandparent-stepgrandchild relationships. Demographers estimate that by 2030 American grandparents will have equal numbers of both biological and stepgrandchildren. While researchers have suggested that multigenerational steprelationships may be important, little is known about how these relationships are developed and maintained. In other words, if they are important, how do they come to be so highly valued? The stepgrandparenting project, led by Drs. Lawrence Ganong and Marilyn Coleman uses grounded theory methods to explore the ways in which stepgrandparent-stepgrandchild relationships are established and maintained, as well as the influence of social and familial contexts on stepgrandparent-stepgrandchild relational patterns.

Selected Publications:

  • Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. (2012). Relationships in older stepfamilies. In R. Blieszner & V. Bedford (Eds.). Handbook of Families and Aging 2nd ed. (pp. 213-242). NY: Praeger.
  • Ganong, L., & Coleman, M. (2010). Reciprocity in intergenerational relationships in stepfamilies. In M. Izuhara (Ed.), Ageing and intergenerational relations: Family reciprocity from a global perspective (pp. 129-147). Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.
  • Ganong, L. (2008). Intergenerational relationships in stepfamilies. In J. Pryor (Ed.), International handbook of stepfamilies: Policy and practice in legal, research, and clinical environments (pp. 394-420). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.

The Strong Couples, Stable Children: Building Relationship Smarts project involves training Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) teachers in a relationship education curriculum entitled Relationship Smarts Plus, produced by the Dibble Fund. The course consists of 14 one-hour lessons designed for adolescents between 8th-12th grade. It offers practical skills and information on critical topics ranging from attraction and dealing with rejection to communication skills and "red flags" in unhealthy relationships. The over-arching purpose of the project is to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect and the risk of maltreatment in adolescent dating relationships, and improve the probability of adolescents forming future healthy adult and parent-child relationships.

This project is funded by Missouri’s Children’s Trust Fund. Dr. Dave Schramm serves as the Project Director. Trainings in Kansas City and St. Louis have been carried out with teachers from around the state. During years 3-5, more trainings in other locations will take place. Using a quasi-experimental pre/post program design, results indicate that students who received the Relationship Smarts program showed increases in knowledge and understanding of various aspects of healthy relationships.

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