UAMS Researcher Receives Grant to Study Impact of Domestic, Community Violence on Children

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LITTLE ROCK – A University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) pediatrics researcher hopes to improve intervention programs by seeing how a child’s exposure to violence at home and in their neighborhood could have a lasting impact on their social or behavioral development.


Lorraine M. McKelvey, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics of the UAMS College of Medicine, received a one-year, $54,995 grant through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Connections Initiative, a national program designed to expand the diversity of perspectives that inform the foundation’s programming and introduce new researchers and scholars to the foundation.


She plans to use her grant to explore the effects of domestic and community violence on children over time. An estimated 10 million children in the United States have witnessed or been victims of violence, which can put them at risk for developmental problems including aggressiveness, depression and problems in school, she said.


McKelvey is examining data collected from 985 families in the Infant Health and Development Program, a study started in 1985 to evaluate a comprehensive early intervention for low-birth-weight, premature infants designed to reduce the infants’ health and developmental problems. The study tracked the physical, cognitive and behavioral development of participating children from birth through age 18, gathering information on all issues that might impact development, including exposure to violence.


The data will allow McKelvey to chart the impact of the violence over several years. She said the study was one of the few to have such developmental data on participants from birth to age 18.

The study also will examine the effect of continued exposure to domestic violence – both physical and verbal – and community violence that could range from crime to negative conditions such as unemployment and drug use.


“There have been studies showing that exposure to violence raised the risk of immediate or short term development problems,” McKelvey said. “We want to see if that effect lasts over several years or whether continued exposure to violence compounds the problem.”


McKelvey said the study also would allow researchers to see how the varying degrees of exposure to violence at home or in the community or both affect development.


“Perhaps there’s a situation where a child has a good family life but is regularly exposed to community violence or the opposite,” McKelvey said. “This study will examine development for those children as well as for children who are exposed to both forms of violence.”


McKelvey said the study results could guide improvements in programs seeking to counter the negative effects of violence. Exploring how the exposures to community and domestic violence interact over time will be useful in refining, targeting and developing effective interventions, she said.


Arkansas was one of the original research sites for the Infant Health and Development Program, so some of the subjects are from the state. Patrick Casey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine, was lead investigator for the local participation in the large randomized clinical trial tracking the effectiveness of programs designed to reduce risk of health and development problems in low birth weight infants.


The program collected data from families in the Little Rock area along with cities in seven other states.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest United States philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. Its New Connections Initiative seeks early to mid-career scholars who have been underrepresented in research activities. This includes researchers who are historically underrepresented ethnic or racial minorities, first-generation college graduates and individuals from low-income communities.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,538 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 9,600 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. Visit