This award supports creation of a new international research collaboration between a Kenyan academic institution (Kenyatta University), a Kenyan non-governmental organization (The Orphans and Vulnerable Childrens Project), and a U.S. academic institution (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), who together will study how culture may modify the effects of poverty on child development. Slum communities in Kenya provide an ideal context to examine how culture may modify the effects of poverty on child development, as there is tremendous cultural diversity in individual slum communities. Such diversity provides the unique opportunity to research cultural and individual variation in caregiving within one environment, thus avoiding common confounding between culture and the environment of poverty and advancing the science of child development.

The new collaboration will bring together unique expertise; Kenyatta University collaborators bring specialized expertise that will be crucial in designing the longitudinal study, particularly as relates to the diverse caregiving configurations of slum-dwelling children as well as determining culturally relevant child outcomes. The NGO collaborators provide expertise in how to work effectively in slum communities and how to identify and observe children from various cultural groups.

Students involved in the project will receive valuable research training and experience with inter-cultural collaboration. This training and subsequent data collection in the slums will enhance their abilities to apply theories of socio-cultural factors in child development learned in the classroom to real life experiences. The project promotes diversity and the research capacity of early career scholars in science through the involvement by minority students, as well as the PI, a co-PI, and two senior personnel. This inter-disciplinary and international project also provides benefits to society by supporting development of scientifically grounded interventions aimed at increasing the health and well being of children in poverty.

Project Report

The purpose of this project was to catalyze a new international collaboration between a Kenyan academic institution (Kenyatta University), a Kenyan non-governmental organization (The Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s Project), and a US academic institution (University of Tennessee, Knoxville). Through this collaborative, US researchers gained a locally informed description of slum environments near Nairobi, which enabled the collection of initial data to identify cultural and individual variation in young children’s experiences with caregivers. The formation of this collaboration and initial data collection has laid the groundwork for a longitudinal study of cultural and individual variation in caregiving in slum environments that would connect caregiving patterns to children’s social-emotional, cognitive, and health outcomes. Key Outcomes and Findings: First, the multi-disciplinary nature of the work brought together students and faculty from three different departments within the University of Tennessee, enhancing the potential for future cross-disciplinary scholarship. Through collaborative work sessions in Kenya, collaboration on data collection, and analytic discussions via video-conferences, a robust collaboration was formed between faculty at the University of Tennessee, faculty at Kenyatta University, and the directors and staff at the Orphan and Vulnerable Children’s Project in Africa. The collaboration enabled successful data collection in one slum community. Initial results of the data collection illustrate how young children’s experiences are predicted by ethnic background as well as the section of the community in which they lived. Ethnic groups had distinct styles of caregiving that related to children’s experiences and social interaction patterns. There were also distinct ethnic differences in caregivers’ perceptions of the community and in particular what was viewed as positive or negative aspects of the community. Intellectual Merit and Impact: This project makes important impacts on the inter-disciplinary field of child development by expanding the study of children’s development in poverty. Although there is extensive child development research exemplifying the negative impact of poverty on child development, there remain questions of how social/cultural aspects of children’s lives may influence the impact of poverty. Considering the vast cultural diversity within nations and across the world and the substantial proportion of children living in poverty, it is crucial to understand the role of culture in order to understand the extent to which child development research can be generalized to various communities, and how appropriate the translation of that research is to policy and intervention in various contexts. The results of our initial data collection clearly show individual and cultural variation in young children’s experiences and particularly in their interactions with their primary caregivers as well as other social partners. Furthermore, we were able to identify cultural variation in how caregivers perceived the environment, which may be an indicator of potential stress that are experiencing. Identification of this cultural variation provides support for the idea that culture may play a critical role in impacting how children develop in poverty. Our results exemplify the need for a large-scale longitudinal study of diverse cultural families in one poverty context, such as a slum community. Such a study has the potential to demonstrate how individual and cultural variation in children’s experiences living in poverty may impact children’s social-emotional, cognitive, and health outcomes. Such a study would advance the science of child development by disentangling the often confounded effects of culture and socio-economic circumstances on children’s development, as well as provide an understanding of the separate or interacting ways that cultural and individual variation may influence children’s development in the context of poverty. Broader Impacts: Involving students in this international collaboration and research has provided opportunities for them to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real life experiences, thereby allowing them to gain first-hand knowledge of the socio-cultural aspects of child health and development. Through this project, students have also received valuable research training. The project attracted the interests and involvement of four minority students. Involving minority students in this research collaborative has supported diversity in U.S science. Involvement in forming the collaboration provided the opportunity for the Kenyan and U.S. partners to establish connections and build relationships that could be mutually beneficial for engaging students and faculty in practice-based, community-participatory research. Furthermore, this project has created infrastructure for future collaborations in part due to a memorandum of understanding between the University of Tennessee and Kenyatta University. Furthermore, this project has promoted the research capacity of early career scholars including the PI, a co-PI, and two senior personnel. This inter-disciplinary and international collaborative also has the potential to provide benefits to society at large by promoting the design of research that is particularly relevant for application to interventions aimed at increasing the health and well being of children in poverty.

Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2011-08-01
Budget End
2013-07-31
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2011
Total Cost
$88,864
Indirect Cost
Name
University of Tennessee Knoxville
Department
Type
DUNS #
City
Knoxville
State
TN
Country
United States
Zip Code
37996