Oct. 1, 2021
$1.2M grant aims to improve outcomes for children with significant disabilities and their families
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The U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs has awarded a $1.2 million grant to an interdisciplinary team at Virginia Commonwealth University and collaborative partners. The project will prepare early intervention personnel, early childhood special educators and social workers to use evidence-based practices to improve mental health for children from high-need communities, including children with disabilities and high-intensity needs and their families.
The grant, “Project PIRR: Preparing Interdisciplinary, Responsive, and Reflective EI/ECSE Professionals and Social Workers,” is led by Yaoying Xu, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education.
“The overarching goal of Project PIRR is to build and strengthen the path between high-quality early intervention personnel and optimal outcomes of young children with significant disabilities and their families, particularly children from high-need communities and children who experience emotional or behavioral difficulties,” Xu said.
The project will be conducted through VCU’s Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education, the School of Social Work and the Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine, in collaboration with the Partnership for People with Disabilities, the Virginia Department of Education and community partners.
As part of the grant, the team will provide specialized interdisciplinary training to 20 early intervention, early childhood special education personnel and 10 social workers. These Project PIRR scholars will be prepared through the School of Education’s master’s degree in special education-early childhood program and the School of Social Work’s master’s degree in social work program.
The project will involve developing seminars to enhance competencies for serving children with significant disabilities or emotional difficulties and their families. It will also involve developing coordinated clinical experiences across educational, developmental, sociocultural and medical aspects through university and community partnerships.
In addition to completing either the master’s degree in special education-early childhood or master’s degree in social work program, the Project PIRR scholars will receive a certificate of intensive intervention training upon completing four shared courses related to intensive and individualized interventions for young children with significant disabilities or emotional difficulties.
“The critical issue we intend to address is the persistent documented need for high-quality, fully credentialed interdisciplinary early intervention personnel across our nation and state to apply evidence-based practices to improve family and early childhood mental health for infants, toddlers and preschool-age children from high-need communities,” Xu said.
Along with Xu, the project team includes Sarah K. Price, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and associate dean for faculty development and a professor in the School of Social Work; Serra T. De Arment, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education, and curriculum coordinator for the special education track of the RTR Residency Program; Christine Spence, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and assistant professor of early childhood special education in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education; Bergen B. Nelson, M.D., co-investigator and general pediatrician and child health services researcher as well as an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the VCU School of Medicine; Maris Wyatt, project coordinator in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education; Dana Yarbrough, family engagement specialist and assistant director of strategic initiatives at the Partnership for People with Disabilities, Virginia’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities; and Seb M. Prohn, Ph.D., project evaluator and senior research evaluation specialist with the Partnership for People with Disabilities.
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