Katie Rosanbalm has been appointed Associate Research Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, effective July 1, 2023, after being a part of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy (CCFP) since 2004. Trained as a child clinical psychologist, Rosanbalm’s work focuses on program implementation and evaluation in the areas of self-regulation development, trauma-informed early care and education, and child welfare.
When reflecting on her 20-year journey in scientific research, Rosanbalm can summarize in simple words the mission guiding her work.
“I want to improve outcomes for kids, even when I can’t improve their stress,” she said.
As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Rosanbalm pursued multiple research opportunities in child abuse prevention. She wrote her senior thesis about the long-term impacts of physical punishment and found physical punishment from parents predicted children’s worsening behavior over time. This hooked her a little bit, she said, and she credits the experience and an internship conducting child abuse prevention workshops in elementary schools with solidifying her interest in the field.
Rosanbalm went on to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees in child clinical psychology from Ohio University before coming to Duke in 2004 to work on the Durham Family Initiative (the precursor of Family Connects International), which sought to reduce the rate of child abuse in Durham, N.C. by half over 10 years.
“I loved that project,” she said. “But one of the things I thought about a lot is there are a lot of kids who experience adversity, and we can’t prevent it all. We’re not going to prevent all of it, so what are we then going to do to promote wellness for kids? How can we promote resilience and wellness among youth in the face of adversity?”
In 2015, Rosanbalm co-authored a series of reports on self-regulation and toxic stress for the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families. The reports described existing research on the impact of toxic stress on children and the strength of evidence for self-regulation interventions from birth through young adulthood.
“It was clear that we had a lot of interventions from preschool through the end of elementary school…but we were really missing early childhood and adolescence,” said Rosanbalm.
Trauma-informed education: birth to high school
Rosanbalm also leads the ongoing program development and evaluation of the North Carolina Center for Resilience and Learning. Housed in the Public School Forum of North Carolina, the Center provides schools and districts with trauma-informed coaching to build safer and more supportive learning environments that increase student resilience, support social-emotional learning, reduce discipline referrals, and improve learning. Now in its seventh year, the Center has worked with 33 school districts and continues to grow in the type of work they do.
With new funding from the Oak Foundation, Rosanbalm will lead exploratory work for students with learning differences, specifically on how to better support those students using resilience strategies. The funding will also go toward supporting work to build district-level leadership teams.
“This journey took me to ITTI Care (Infant/Toddler Trauma-Informed Care) because I knew that the other area of self-regulation that was left out was the earliest years when brain development explodes,” said Rosanbalm. “And that got me to thinking--could we move resilience and learning concepts to a younger age group?”
With support from the NC Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child Development and Early Education, ITTI Care is in its fifth year and entering a randomized trial with its fifth cohort.
In addition to her research work, Rosanbalm directs the Child Policy Research Certificate program and teaches two courses a year as part of the program.
“I absolutely love working with students, meeting one-on-one to help them explore their interests, and helping them learn about the practical applications of research to policy and practice,” said Rosanbalm. “I never anticipated that working with students would become my favorite part of the job, but it has!”
Now, as a faculty member within Sanford, Rosanbalm looks forward to attending faculty meetings and the opportunity to meet her peers and learn more about their work. She adds it will also be helpful to attend these meetings to stay informed and up to date on courses and other student-related issues.
Otherwise, Rosanbalm says of her new appointment, “I will continue teaching one course a semester and leading research on trauma-informed practices and system changes.”