Steinhardt Researchers Receive $1.9 Million Grant to Address “Toxic Stress” in Poor Children


Researchers at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development have received a $1.9 million grant from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to partner with Early Head Start programs in New York City to develop and assess methods for reducing “toxic stress” faced by children in poverty.

Researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development have received a $1.9 million grant from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to partner with Early Head Start programs in New York City to develop and assess methods for reducing “toxic stress” faced by children in poverty.

Toxic stress is typically brought on when children experience powerful and prolonged early environmental and caregiving adversity. Families are more likely to face those types of adversity when coping with poverty.

The study will be conducted by Clancy Blair and Cybele Raver, professors in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Applied Psychology in partnership with the Children’s Aid Society, the Education Alliance, and University Settlement—all providers of Early Head Start home visiting services.

Previous research has shown that poverty has an enormous negative impact on parenting, often leaving these caregivers emotionally drained and less able to respond sensitively to the needs of their infants. Moreover, other findings have revealed that poverty is stressful for children, which results in diminished performance outside the home. A study led by Blair, recently published in the journal Child Development, found that stress in the lives of poor children contributes to the early achievement gap between children from low-income homes and their more financially advantaged classmates.

Under the ACF grant, Blair and Raver will implement and evaluate an intervention, Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up, or ABC, which has been shown with children in foster care to promote children’s attachment to their primary caregivers and to diminish toxic stress.

ABC is geared to help caregivers overcome their own psychological barriers that may interfere with providing appropriate care and teach them to be more responsive to their children's needs.

 The ACF-funded study will include 160 families living in poverty and participating in the federal Early Head Start program. The study will determine if the ABC intervention is effective with caregivers and in reducing toxic stress in their young children, and if so, the feasibility of making it a regular part of Early Head Start services.

ACF is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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