Pitt Mother and Child Project Early Steps Project Parental Involvement Health Promotion Study Early Growth and Development Study
Early Steps Pilot Study Risk Factors in COD


  • Funding Source: The National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health
  • Years of Funding: 1991-2009
  • Investigators: Daniel Shaw, PI; Tom Dishion
The Pitt Mother & Child Project is an ongoing longitudinal study of child development. Begun in 1991 by Drs. Daniel Shaw and Joan Vondra as the Pitt Mother & Baby Project, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has provided continuous funding through the year 2009. Since the project’s initiation, our primary goal has been the identification of factors associated with vulnerability and resiliency among low-income boys in the metropolitan area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To this end, 310 families with infant boys were recruited from area WIC (Women, Infants, and Children Nutritional Supplement Program) Clinics for participation when children were between 6 and 17 months old. Since that time, family assessments have been conducted at participant’s homes and/or in our laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh when children were ages 1.5, 2, 3.5, 5, 5.5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15, and 17 years old. Multiple family members, including mothers, fathers, and siblings, have participated in the assessments. At the age 15 and 17 interviews, the boys were also invited a best friend or romantic partner to participate. Findings from the study have been used to inform researchers, practitioners, and policy makers in North America, Europe, and Australia about the salience of the toddler years in the development of early-starting pathways of antisocial behavior.


  • Funding Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Years of Funding: 2002-2013
  • Investigators: Daniel Shaw, PI; Tom Dishion, site PI; Melvin Wilson, site PI; Erin Ingoldsby, JeeWon Cheong, Frances Gardner

The Early Steps Project is an ongoing, longitudinal study of 731 ethnically-diverse families from urban (Pittsburgh, PA), suburban (Eugene, OR), and rural (Charlottesville, VA) sites. Families were recruited when children were 2 years old, and at recruitment, all families displayed sociodemographic, family, and child risk factors, suggesting that this cohort of children are at high risk for displaying trajectories of conduct problems (CP) and later drug use. The Early Steps Multisite study builds on the Pitt Early Steps Pilot Study to examine the efficacy of the Family Check Up (FCU) intervention in this sample from ages 2 to 10. The study consists of regular home assessments and treatment sessions with families who were randomly assigned to the intervention group.  The families were previously assessed when children were ages 2-2.11, 3.25-4, 4.25-5, and 5.25-6 years Follow-up will be conducted when children are ages 7-7.5 (currently in progress), 8-8.5, 9-9.5, and 10-10.5 years. It is expected that early intervention will be associated with stabilization of parenting and child behavior, whereas families in the control group are likely to show decreases in parental functioning and growth in child conduct problems.  As children are now enrolled in elementary school, the aims of the current project include:  1.) refining the intervention model to address the child’s adaptation to school and development of self-regulatory skills; 2.) examining the consistency of developmental models of problem behavior, emotional adjustment, and normative self-regulation in childhood; and 3.) examining risk markers, such as children’s problem behavior and lack of school readiness, to evaluate the long-term impact of intervention on pathways to later drug abuse and other risky behaviors.

LINK TO CHILD AND FAMILY CENTER:   http://cfc.uoregon.edu


  • Funding Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Years of Funding: 2007-2012
  • Investigators: Daniel Shaw, PI; Tom Dishion, site PI; Melvin Wilson, site PI; Erin Ingoldsby, JeeWon Cheong, Frances Gardner

The Early Steps Monitoring Project uses the Early Steps Multisite sample of 731 families to examine  extra-familial contexts at ages 7 to 10 (e.g., school, after-school care, and neighborhood settings), focusing on the relation of parental involvement in these outside settings with child problem behavior. Specifically, we will address: 1) associations between the quality of school environments, after-school care, and neighborhoods with the emergence of CP during the early school-age period; 2) the continuity of early parental involvement in the toddler and preschool period and later parental involvement and monitoring in extra-familial contexts in the early school-age years; 3) moderating effects of parental involvement in schools, after-care, and the neighborhood on children’s CP; and 4) effects of a parenting intervention on parental involvement in school, after-care, and neighborhood contexts and on children’s subsequent CP.  Thus, the study will fill a much-needed void on associations between extra-familial contexts and risk for CP during the early school-age years. Equally critical, the study can provide data on the potential moderating influence of involved parenting, its malleability for families facing multiple adversities, and whether family-based interventions can make a difference for children at risk for CP and drug use.

LINK TO CHILD AND FAMILY CENTER:   http://cfc.uoregon.edu


  • Funding Source: National Institue for Child Health and Human Development
  • Investigators:Daniel Shaw and Ronald Dahl (Principal Investigators), Anne Gill, Dana Rofey, & Tina Goldstein (Co-Investigators), Thomas Dishion, Allison Harvey, Melanie Gold, & John Jakicic (Consultants)

The overarching goal of these projects is to examine the short- and long-term health effects of a set of interventions focusing on three inter-related regulatory systems: sleep, physical activity, and emotion. This intervention targets youth at high risk for behavioral and emotional problems during the transition to adolescence, a critical time in the development of habits, skills, and proclivities in these domains. Study #1, Health Promotion: Sleep, Activity, and Emotion Regulation, is part of an NIMH Center grant focused on co-occurring problem behavior in adolescence. Participants will include 150 8.5-year-old children who have participated in the Early Steps-Multisite Project since age 2. Families will be divided into three groups: 1) control, 2) intervention-only, and 3) intervention with health promotion (HP) booster. Following baseline assessments of sleep, physical activity, and distress tolerance at age 8.5, and follow-up intervention for groups 2 and 3, children will be re-assessed at age 9.5. We hypothesize that the HP intervention group will have the greatest improvements in child sleep, physical activity, and distress tolerance as well as reduced levels of co-occurring behavior and affective-emotional problems, which will be mediated by improvements in sleep, physical activity, and distress tolerance. We will also explore whether increases in parental involvement mediate changes found in child sleep, physical activity, and distress tolerance. Study #2, Health Promotion in Early Adolescence: Sleep, Activity, & Emotion Regulation, is a separate R01 currently under review at NICHD. Participants will include 160 10-13 year-old siblings of children enrolled in one of the existing lab studies. Families will be randomly assigned to control and intervention groups. All families will receive baseline and follow-up assessments of child sleep, physical activity, and emotion regulation. Those in the intervention group will have the opportunity to receive feedback and intervention services on child domains and other family issues. We hypothesize that the intervention will be associated with improvements in child sleep, physical activity, and emotion regulation as well as child problem behavior. Finally, we will examine whether increases in parental involvement mediate changes in child sleep, physical activity, and emotion regulation.


  • Funding Source: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
  • Years of Funding: 2002-2012
  • Investigators: David Reiss, PI; Xiaojia Ge, site PI; Leslie Leve, site PI; Jenae Niederhiser; Rand Conger; John Reid; Laura Scaramella; Daniel Shaw

The premise of the Early Growth and Development Study (EGADS) is based on increasing evidence that genetic and social influences are intricately intertwined in early development. EGADS I is an adoption study in which the child is genetically unrelated to the adopting parents. This research design allows one to disentangle the distinct influences of genetic and social factors and to delineate the mechanisms by which these two sets of influences may combine. The sample includes 350 "yoked family" adoptive units each consisting of the birth parents, an infant adopted at birth, and the non-related adoptive parents followed from the child’s birth until age 2. Birth parents will be assessed for their psychopathology, their competencies and for intrauterine risk shortly after the child's birth and when the children are 18 months. Adopted children will be assessed for behavioral, cognitive, and social characteristics at 9, 18, and 27 months, with an emphasis on changes during the toddler period. Using state of the art assessments, adoptive parent-child interactions and characteristics of the adoptive parents will also be assessed at 9, 18, and 27 months. This will allow us to examine facets of the social environment that may mediate or moderate genetic influences on the evolution of internalizing, externalizing, and social competence in the children. Dr. David Reiss serves as PI for EGADS I, and Dr. Leslie Leve is the PI for EGADS II, which will follow the same sample to formal school entry. In addition, Dr. Jenae Neiderhiser will lead a spin-off study of the EGADS’ Projects, adding 200 new adopted families to the cohort of 350, and providing more intensive examinations of prenatal drug exposure and molecular genetics.

LINK TO EGADS WEBSITE:   http://www.gwumc.edu/cfr/earlydevelopment/


  • Funding Source: The National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health
  • Years of Funding: 2000-2007
  • Investigators: Daniel Shaw, PI; Tom Dishion; Frances Gardner; Melvin Wilson
The goal of this study is to test a family-based preventive intervention with two-year-old children at risk for developing significant conduct problems. Prior longitudinal research has found that early-starter children demonstrate the most chronic and severe forms of antisocial behavior. The Early Steps Pilot Study examined whether a developmentally-based, ecologically sensitive intervention initiated during the toddler period could help to prevent trajectories of antisocial behavior. The intervention was initiated at age 2 before the child’s and family’s behaviors are less malleable to change. The current project tests the efficacy of Dishion’s Family Check Up (FCU) intervention with a group of 120 extreme-risk families with toddler-age boys recruited from Women Infant, and Children (WIC) sites in Pittsburgh, PA. All families met the criteria for extreme-risk status based on the presence of multiple child, parent, and sociodemographic risk factors. The FCU intervention is based on well-established evidence and incorporates novel preventive strategies using Shaw and Gardner’s developmentally based research. Children have been assessed at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5.5-6. Families in the intervention group have been offered intervention services at ages 2, 4, and 5.5-6. Results of the study provide support for the efficacy of the FCU with families of toddlers at-risk for early-starting pathways of antisocial behavior. Improvements in maternal involvement and decreases in children’s use of physical aggression have been found for those in treatment group at age 4, with similar improvements in positive parenting and reductions in child destructive behavior at age 3. In addition, despite the brief number of sessions parent consultants had with families at age 2 (x = 3.26), the intervention was effective in reducing destructive behavior for children if they had high initial levels of inhibition and/or their mothers displayed increased depressive symptoms.

Risk Factors in Childhood-Onset DepressionRISK FACTORS IN CHILDHOOD-ONSET DEPRESSION

  • Funding Source: National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health
  • Years of Funding: 1997-2007
  • Investigators: Maria Kovacs, Program Project PI; Daniel Shaw, Project PI; Nathan Fox, Project PI; James Kennedy, Project PI; Jeff Cohn; Catherine Barr
The overall goal of this project was to investigate the developmental trajectories of the offspring of mothers with childhood-onset depression (COD). As part of a larger Program Project led by Dr. Maria Kovacs investigating genetic, psychophysiological, and environmental risk factors associated with the intergenerational transmission of COD, this project (Study 3) was focused on emotion-regulatory skills that may contribute to offspring’s risk for psychopathology. We first identified child, parent, and parenting attributes that were associated with child emotion regulatory skills and psychopathology, and then investigated how such child outcomes were linked to psychophysiological and/or genetic risk. In most of our work, offspring of proband mothers with childhood-onset depression (COD) were compared with the offspring of probands with no childhood-onset disorder (NCOD). During the 10-year course of the Program Project, we conducted 754 assessments on 244 offspring, 147 from COD or early-onset bipolar (BD) families and 97 from NCOD families. Our findings support the hypothesis that COD offspring would be characterized by greater negative and less positive emotion regulation (ER) and higher internalizing symptoms than the NCOD offspring (Silk et al., 2004). Specifically, daughters of COD mothers were more likely to wait passively and less likely to engage in active distraction than daughters of NCOD mothers. We also found that parental COD status was a risk factor for both externalizing and internalizing problems, but that these associations were moderated by child frontal asymmetry as well as observed child and parent behavior during emotional regulation tasks (Forbes et al., 2006). Shaw and colleagues (2006) found that COD mothers showed significantly less responsivity to their child’s distress, and for boys only, less contingent responsivity to the expression of child positivity. These results suggest a possible mechanism for the intergenerational transmission of problem behavior.

Copyright 2006 Dynamic Drive