Elisa Rachel Pisani Altafim
We asked scholars to describe some of the following questions: What drew you to do work on Latino youth and families? Who was an important mentor to you in this work? What tips do you have for someone starting out?
I’m from Brazil, the most populous Latin American country. I began doing research in child development, parenting programs, and violence prevention to help families in my country be protective factors in children’s lives.
My parents were my first mentors through their teachings and life examples. My father taught me the importance of research and the art of asking questions and getting answers in science, and my mother the passion for children. I want to help families be protective factors for children’s development, in the same way, that my family was for me.
Professors Olga Rodrigues (UNESP-Brazil), Maria Beatriz Linhares (USP-Brazil), and Professor Dana McCoy (Harvard-USA) were my main academic mentors. During my undergraduate years, I contacted Professor Olga to learn more about research. She invited me to participate in an extension project, and soon, I started helping with some research projects. This experience during my undergraduate years was fundamental for me to develop skills and to deepen my knowledge of research. I worked in the lab with Professor Olga for 6 years (undergraduate and masters), and we still do research together. I met Professor Beatriz in the context of the university and scientific conferences, and I liked the way she offered research suggestions and guidance. Therefore, I contacted her to be my doctoral advisor. I have been working with her for 7 years, and her mentorship was fundamental to my professional progress. During my Doctorate, I found it essential to spend time at a university abroad to deepen and broaden my knowledge. I made some contacts with the Harvard office in Brazil, and they suggested talking to Professor Dana. Luckily at that time, she visited Brazil, and we had the opportunity to meet in person. During this time, I got a grant from the FAPESP (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo) Foundation, that funded me to spend 5 months at Harvard as visiting researcher. Professor Dana was very welcoming and taught me a lot by sharing her knowledge. It’s been 3 years since she was my advisor and we keep working together. We have already published articles together, and we continue to meet in person whenever we have the opportunity and through Skype.
The process of mentoring requires work, openness to dialogue, shared learning, commitment, and follow-through on both sides. I feel that I was mentored by wonderful professors who are now good friends. I keep doing projects with the three of them, and I am very grateful for that.
To people who are starting work in the field, I recommend investing efforts in research in Latin America countries to prevent violence against children. Visiting or becoming a visiting researcher at Latin American universities can be an opportunity to learn more about these contexts and to deepen your knowledge of Latin American countries. I also recommend getting in touch with Latin American professors and researchers during scientific meetings as an important way to begin to understand the Latin American context. I find this to be very important for meeting people and making new connections. In one of these international conferences, I met Kimberly Boller (SRCD member), a wonderful connection. We have a lot of common interests and so much to share and learn together. We have already met at two conferences, and all her experience in the United States helped me to think about other possibilities in Brazil. We had the opportunity to share reflections, stories, experiences with intervention programs, fidelity, and implementation.
We invited scholars to describe a recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.
My recent study (Altafim & Linhares, 2019) showed the efficacy of the ACT Raising Safe Kids Program for improving parenting practices and reducing child behavior problems in Brazil. This program was developed by the American Psychological Association and is recommended by the World Health Organization for the prevention of child maltreatment. The program has low implementation costs, and has been implemented in various countries (e.g., United States, Brazil, Bosnia, Colombia, Greece, Guatemala, Japan, Portugal and Taiwan).
After the study, at the LAPREDES (Laboratory of Research on Prevention of Child Development and Behavior Problems – USP), we started new partnerships to train new ACT facilitators to implement and conduct research with the program in several cities in Brazil (e.g., Ribeirão Preto, Fortaleza, Pelotas, Florianópolis). In Pelotas, following the training and positive results after 1 year of implementation, the city decided that the ACT program would become public policy. Several institutions collaborated on this effort. This partnership between research and public policy is not always easy, but is essential for changes in children’s lives. Some cities and public managers are already open to research, and in these places, this partnership flows more easily. I have studied and deepened my knowledge in public policy to get research more integrated in public programs. But, this work depends on the institutions that are involved in the process, and how the research aligns with existing practices.
Altafim, E. R. P., & Linhares, M. B. M. (2019). Preventive intervention for strengthening effective parenting practices: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 62, 160-172.
Any upcoming talks, presentations, or publications we should know about?
In October, I will attend a symposium in Brazil organized by the Brazilian Society of Psychology (SBP) in the city of João Pessoa (Northeast of Brazil). I’m going to present research results of intervention programs for parents to prevent violence against children. I am also working on an article on the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and parenting programs to reduce the cycle of violence.
Reflections on Latino Caucus Experiences
Finally, we asked about experiences with the SRCD Latino Caucus: Why is the caucus important and/or your views on the role of the Latino Caucus vis-à-vis SRCD, research on child development, policy/practice.
The SRCD Latino Caucus helps us join efforts to find solutions in research that promotes the development of children, with attention for Latino children. Latin researchers need to be empowered to help change the lives of these children. Many Latino children are growing up in vulnerable situations (e.g., poverty, violent environments) and are facing multiple barriers to their development. Therefore, we need evidence-based practices and strategies to promote impacts in these children’s lives.