Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health
WashU Research Associate Professor, Rachel Tabak PhD, and Senior Vice President and Chief Research Officer of Parents as Teachers National Center (PATNC), Allison Kemner, MPH, work together in a community-academic partnership that benefits families while advancing the field of dissemination and implementation science.
Parents as Teachers National Center is known for their evidence-based home visiting model-Parents as Teachers (PAT)-which supports families with children (prenatal through Kindergarten) in all 50 states and six other countries. Work from the partnership-an illustration of bringing evidence-based research from the lab to the public-will be highlighted at the 2023 PAT Annual International Conference, as an example of how academic science and community interventions can align to benefit family health.
The partnership started decades ago by WashU’s Joyce and Chauncy Buchheit Professor in Public Health Debra Haire-Joshu, PhD. Since then, it has grown into a ‘well-oiled machine’ with multiple, federally-funded research projects that, for example, support families in engaging in healthy eating and activity behaviors, which can prevent chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. “Among the projects we are currently working on, the HEALTH (Healthy Eating and Active Living Taught at Home) intervention came out of this partnership,” said Tabak. “HEALTH embeds healthy eating and activity content within the structure of PAT’s usual practice.”
Both Tabak and Kemner agree that funding from the Center for Community Health Partnership and Research, called a Partnership Development and Sustainability Support Program (PDSS) award, has helped strengthen their partnership. The PDSS award has enabled the team to take their partnership in a new, innovative direction incorporating the administrative data PAT collects as part of its service to families. Tabak says the research team has offered guidance on setting up a codebook, which uses individual, family and service data to demonstrate PAT’s retention, engagement and impact on families.
At the heart of this partnership is mutual respect and communication. “I think truly valuing the expertise of each partner is essential, as is open communication to navigate project planning and implementation,” Kemner said. To others who wish to strengthen current community-academic partnerships, she adds, “Prioritize and engage in communication around goals. Continue working together even if not all projects are funded. Seek small funding opportunities that can support the partnership and allow for pilot work that you can do together to build an understanding and a common body of work.”
The team recommends other factors that community organizations should consider when looking for a long-term academic partner:
- Alignment of goals – Making sure the research interests and partnership goals and objectives align.
- Communication – One of the most important factors. A willingness to engage in open and transparent communication is essential. Finding a research partner that values your input and actively seeks your participation.
- Cultural compatibility – Assessing and understanding cultural compatibility such as organizational values and commitment to community engagement.
- Resources – It is important to find a partner willing to invest time in some of the factors mentioned above, even when funding is not available, or only small amounts of funding are available. Partnership work takes time!
- Evaluation and reflection – While regularly evaluating progress towards the outcomes of the partnership is important, it can be meaningful to spend time engaging in reflection about what may or may not be working well and how both entities can continue to learn and improve together.
What’s ahead? In addition to other plans & future collaborative projects, Tabak, Haire-Joshu, Kemner, others at PATNC, and Emory University faculty collaborators have applied for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) award to develop strategies to support reach, engagement and retention among families facing social determinants of health-related barriers (e.g., unstable housing, food insecurity) that might prohibit them from benefiting from PAT programs and the HEALTH intervention. They emphasize that this work would not be possible without this partnership.
Visit the Center for Community Health Partnerships & Research to learn more about PDSS funding. A call for applications is anticipated to open in October 2023. To learn more about the Parents as Teachers organization, visit their website.