Family Impact Seminars

Family Impact Seminars (FIS) are nonpartisan seminars designed to translate research to policymakers on topics related to families. The purposes of FIS are to better connect high quality research and public policy, and to promote policymaking that takes families into account. Issues that can be addressed in a FIS include (but are not limited to): after school programs, early childhood care and education, juvenile crime, welfare reform, child maltreatment, domestic violence, family health and healthcare issues, high school dropout prevention, gay/lesbian marriage and adoption, family poverty and economic security, divorce and child custody issues, teenage pregnancy, substance use and abuse, and mental health. The efficacy of these seminars in translating research to policy and in effecting change in policy has been supported by research (e.g., Bogenschneider, 2006).

To conduct an FIS, a university is accepted into membership in a coalition organized by the Policy Institute at the University of Wisconsin. Clark’s Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise, directed by James Gomes, represents Massachusetts as the 25th state to take part in the FIS and held its first seminar in 2010.

In 2012, the Family Impact Seminars were designated as a “Bright Idea” by the Harvard Innovations in American Government Award Program. The Bright Ideas Initiative shines “a light on noteworthy and promising government programs and practices so that government leaders, public servants, and other individuals can learn about these ideas and adopt initiatives that work.”  To read more about this award and the program as it works at Clark University, please see this press release, “Family Impact Seminars named Bright Idea; Mass. program directed by Clark University.”

Please see a summary below of our seminars to date:

March 31, 2010: 1st Annual Massachusetts Family Impact Seminar.  The seminar was entitled, “The Great Recession and Its Impact on Families,” and we had three speakers present on this general theme: Robert Ross from the Department of Sociology at Clark University presented on, “Structure, Stress, and Families in the Great Recession;” Deborah Youngblood from the Crittendon Women’s Union spoke on, “Promoting Economic Independence: Identifying What it Costs to Make Ends Meet in Massachusetts and the Jobs that Get You There,” and Denise Hines of the Department of Psychology at Clark University spoke on, “The Great Recession’s Impact on Family Violence and Implications for Policy.” Our briefing report was distributed to all attendees and all state legislators’ offices.  The seminar was also met with much praise: We were given high ranks on our innovativeness, objectivity, usefulness, and educational value.  As a follow-up to this seminar, Robert Ross and Denise Hines, along with Clark graduate student Laura Faulkner, re-presented this information on September 24, 2010, in celebration of David P. Angel’s Inauguration as Clark’s Ninth President to alumni, faculty, students and staff at Clark’s Traina Center for the Arts.  Watch a video of the symposium session, and/or read the press release on the symposium.

March 30, 2011: 2nd Annual Massachusetts Family Impact Seminar.  This seminar was entitled, “Men at Risk: The Physical, Mental, and Social Health of Men in Massachusetts.”  We had three experts speak: James Mahalik from the Department of Counseling, Developmental, and Education Psychology at Boston College spoke on, “The Status of Men’s Physical Health: A Cause for Concern for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Michael Addis from the Department of Psychology at Clark University spoke on, “Men’s Mental Health in Massachusetts: Stigma, Substance Abuse, Suicide and Unemployment,” and Emily Douglas from the Department of Social Work at Bridgewater State University spoke on, “Men’s Social Health within Families and Intimate Relationships.”  The briefing report was distributed to all attendees and all state legislators’ offices.  This seminar was met with much enthusiasm and praise, with similar rankings to our first one.  Pictures of the event can be found on the Mosakowski Institute’s Facebook page.  One week later, both Michael Addis and James Mahalik were interviewed by the Boston NPR affiliate, WBUR, on men’s health issues, and on May 1, 2011, Tony Dokoupil of the Daily Beast (Newsweek) wrote, “The Health Crisis Killing Manly Men,” using information from our seminar.

April 4, 2012: 3rd Annual Massachusetts Family Impact Seminar.  This seminar was entitled, “Youth at Risk: Part 1,” and is the first in a two-part series focusing specifically on youth in Massachusetts. We had three experts speak: Lisa M. Jones from the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire spoke on “How are Youth Doing? Trends in Youth Victimization and Well-Being and Implications for Youth Policy;” Ramon Borges-Mendez from the Community Development and Planning Program at Clark University spoke on “Global and Local Youth Unemployment: Dislocation and Pathways;” and Janis Wolak of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire spoke on “Online Predators — Myth Versus Reality.” The briefing report was distributed to all attendees and all state legislators’ offices.  This seminar attracted our largest audience yet and received much praise, with similar rankings to our previous seminars.  A write-up of the day’s event can be found here: Clark at the Statehouse: Experts brief legislators on “Youth at Risk.”  A commentary on the information presented at the seminar was also written up in Worcester Magazine, in an article entitled, “Panic! Don’t Panic! Despite perception, are today’s teens the safest they’ve been in a generation?”

March 27, 2013: 4th Annual Massachusetts Family Impact Seminar.  This seminar was entitled, “Youth at Risk, Part 2: Children in Need,” and was the second in a two-part series focusing specifically on youth in Massachusetts. We had three experts speak: Fern Johnson, Ph.D., from Clark University spoke on “Trans-Racial Foster Care and Adoption: Issues and Realities;”  Deborah A. Frank, M.D., from Children’s HealthWatch and the Boston University School of Medicine spoke on “Food Insecurity Among Children in Massachusetts: Dislocation and Pathways;” and Donna Haig Friedman, Ph.D., of the McCormack Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, spoke on “Children and Homelessness in Massachusetts.” The briefing report was distributed to all attendees and all state legislators’ offices.  This seminar attracted our largest audience yet and received much praise, with similar rankings to our previous seminars.  A write-up of the day’s event can be found here: Youth at Risk seminar highlights challenges facing children in Mass. Be on the look-out for the publication of the 2012 and 2013 briefing reports in the newly revived New England Journal of Public Policy.

March 26, 2014: 5th Annual Massachusetts Family Impact Seminar.  This seminar was entitled, “A Lot on Our Plate: Chronic Health Threats in Massachusetts.” We had three experts speak: Ira S. Ockene, MD, of UMass Medical School spoke on cardiovascular disease; Christina Economos, PhD of Tufts University spoke on childhood and adolescent obesity; and Barbara Goldoftas, PhD of Clark University spoke on type 2 diabetes. The 2014 Massachusetts FIS briefing report was distributed to all attendees and all state legislators’ offices.

The annual seminars will continue to take place at the State House and include 2-3 expert speakers, discussion sessions, and briefing reports. One timely topic will be covered each year, as selected by the Massachusetts State Legislature. If you have any ideas for a seminar that you would like to be considered, please contact the director of the Family Impact Seminar series, Denise A. Hines, Associate Research Professor in the Department of Psychology, at dhines@clarku.edu.  The seminars are targeted to state policymakers, including legislators, legislative aides, governor’s office staff, and agency representatives.

Reference: Bogenschneider, Karen (2006).  How can we connect research and knowledge with state policymaking?  Lessons from the Wisconsin Family Impact Seminars.  In K. Bogenschneider (Ed.), Family policy matters: How policymaking affects families and what professionals can do, 2nd edition (pp. 245-276). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.