Team led by IEI Fellow awarded $50,000 grant to study child-abuse prevention programs in Catholic elementary schools

A team led by Dr. Kristin Valentino has been awarded a $50,000 grant to study child-abuse prevention programs in Catholic elementary schools.

The grant is one of 11 awarded as part of the University’s response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Valentino, the director of the Shaw Center for Children and Families and a professor of psychology, will be joined by Dr. Jennifer Lefever, the managing director of the Shaw Center, and Dr. Kati Macaluso, the director of ACE Advocates.

Valentino will serve as the principal investigator of Evaluating the Efficacy of Child Abuse Prevention Programs in Catholic Elementary Schools, which will examine safe environment training programs in Catholic primary schools in order to offer evidence-based guidance on the programs and practices that are best at protecting the Church’s youth. 

“I became interested in this work because I wanted to apply my expertise in intervention and prevention programs for abused and neglected children, with my colleagues' expertise in educational curricula and program evaluation, to address the sexual abuse crisis in the Church,” Valentino said.

Her team developed a brief survey to distribute to all Catholic primary school principals in partnership with the National Catholic Educational Association. The survey results will allow them to identify the most common safe environment training programs, as they seek to partner with schools to assess student knowledge before and after their training. This will involve visiting schools with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to collect data in the classrooms.

“One of the things that I loved about this project and what drew me to it from the get-go was the opportunity to collaborate across different disciplines in support of a mission that we all have in common: we are seeking to protect children,” Macaluso said. “In ACE, we remind ourselves that we’re about Catholic schools. At the heart of Catholic schools is and are children. What I love about this project is so much of it is in line with what we are trying to support and protect and form in our work at the Alliance for Catholic Education.”

Learning from these studies is critical. “We’re also attracted to the idea of prevention. Of all the ways you can maltreat children, sexual abuse has the harshest consequences, particularly if they don’t receive the right type of services afterwards, Lefever said. “Given the Church’s mandate to intervene in order to prevent this—it offers us an opportunity to use what we know to help give something back to the Church to help us move forward.”

This study and future research building on it has the potential to guide Catholic education policy, Valentino said: “Ultimately, we hope that our research will assist the Church in providing evidence-based and effective safe environment training to all young children.”

Sponsored by the President’s Office and administered by Notre Dame Research, the University offered $1 million in grants to support research addressing various aspects of the crisis and its aftermath. Of the 11, two grants were awarded to teams affiliated with the Institute for Educational Initiatives. In addition to this study, Dr. Katy Lichon, Dr. Monica Kowalski, and Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC, were funded for The Impact of the Church Sexual Abuse Crisis on Parish Life and Catholic Education: Pastor Responses and Recommendations for Practice.