By Latrice Rollins, Ph.D., MSW
Director and Principal Investigator, NAACFRC
When I was studying to become a social worker, I heard this story about a good Samaritan who saw people injured and in need of help at the bottom of a cliff. They were working hard to help the people, but the number of people kept multiplying at the bottom of the cliff. They decided to go to the top of the cliff to find out what was causing the people to fall in the first place. They discovered that if they addressed the issue at the top of the cliff, they could prevent many more people from being harmed.
This story resonated with me as I worked with families and often saw the same program and policy issues affecting many. Yet, there was only so much that I could do to assist on the front lines at the bottom of the cliff. I understood the importance of data in program development and decision-making and decided that I wanted the tools to influence policies and programs to better serve families, specifically African American families like my own. As I started to conduct research with community-based programs, I learned about innovative approaches and solutions that were created in our communities. Although they were not described in research articles, they were positively impacting African American children and families.
While I desired a career with the Administration of Children and Families (ACF), I did not envision an opportunity like what presented itself in September 2021. ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation funded the National African American Child and Family Research Center (NAACFRC) at Morehouse School of Medicine. The mission of the NAACFRC is to provide national leadership and excellence in community-engaged research to better serve African American children & families. Our activities focus primarily on three programs:
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Head Start and Early Head Start
- Childcare Assistance.
We have a diverse team of researchers, administrators, and communication specialists. Many NAACFRC team members, including myself, have lived experience with these programs and therefore do not see this as just another research project. We understand the importance of objectivity in research, yet there is still something very personal and deeply important about this work to us.
Here are three goals of the NAACFRC:
First, together with a growing network of partners and our funder, we will develop and implement a community-engaged research agenda. We do not want to bring preconceived questions or solutions to the exploration of how African American children and families can be better served by these programs. We seek to engage parents and community leaders on the front lines in authentic partnership. While one may think enough research has been done on our children and families and we know everything that we need to know to do better, there are still many data that have not been collected and questions that have not been answered with and for our children and families. Especially since the exposure of the impact of the triple pandemic – health, racism, and the economy – on African American children and families.
Second, we will build the research capacity for those wanting to conduct research on these programs or in the areas of economic mobility/self-sufficiency and early education and care. With our Community Pilot Project Program, we are equipping community-based organizations to conduct research on their programs in their communities. They will be able to have their own data and apply for more funding for their innovative approaches. We also have an Emerging Scholar Program for students who are interested in conducting community-engaged research with us. Our goal is to prepare those students who were like me, wanting to make an impact in their communities, and in need of the tools to do so. We will also have a community-engaged research partner database, as a resource for those wanting to find research partners with similar interests.
Third, our communication and dissemination goals include many diverse methods for reaching the community, practice, research, student, and policy audiences. We have an annual conference, monthly research webinars, newsletters, and daily social media posts to keep everyone engaged. We will also produce briefs, infographics, journal articles, and reports to share our research.
The NAACFRC is your research center, and we want to be a resource to you. All of our efforts are in the early stages, and I am so excited about the years ahead and look forward to sharing and learning with you.