News, Administration

School of Social Work Wins Grants from LEGO Foundation

The LEGO Foundation recently awarded a grant of $3.2 million to the Boston College School of Social Work’s Research Program on Children and Adversity (RPCA) as part of the foundation’s Playful Parenting initiative.

The program primarily researches the developmental risks of children who have faced poverty and other conflicts, according to Jordan Farrar, associate director of the program.

Primarily operating in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, RPCA’s research assess community needs. One of RPCA’s main methods of research is through interventions, meaning it sends trained professionals to meet with children and their caregivers. 

“We go through effectiveness trials over evidence-based interventions with the hope that we can translate those interventions into policy or into mainstream services,” Farrar said. 

Farrar explained how in one recent project RPCA conducted a longitudinal and intergenerational study of child soldiers in Sierra Leone following the end of the country’s civil war in 2002. The researchers performed psychosocial assessments on reintegrated youth who were affected by the war at four different periods in their lives. This type of study represents RPCA’s approach to all of its research, Farrar explained. 

“This is how organizations begin to craft programs,” Farrar said. “If they understand that these individuals experienced a certain type of trauma, then they can provide directed services.”

Over time, RPCA was able to collect data on how war experiences influence interactions between people, from caregivers to intimate partners to children. Farrar said RPCA’s research showed them that traumatic experiences encountered during one’s youth leads to difficulties stabilizing emotions and stress later in life. 

RPCA’s research is completely grant-funded, meaning in order to get funding, the program needs to submit proposals to potential sponsors. It was LEGO’s Playful Parenting Initiative—which aims to redefine play as a necessary part of the learning process—that drew LEGO to RPCA’s proposal given its recent success in Rwanda, Farrar said.

“Our family home-visiting intervention had gone through two pilots, and we had just wrapped a scale up study that involved 1,049 families at the time when we were starting to interact with LEGO,” Farrar said. “We had done those initial analyses and had seen positive impact in the families on our core constructs in primary outcomes.”

RPCA plans to use the money from the LEGO grant for a new research project in Rwanda that will focus on the districts of Ngoma, Rubavu, and Nyanza. The group of researchers includes interventionists, mentors, trainers, and district officials, all of whom will directly interact with caregivers in Rwanda.

“The LEGO Foundation aims to build a future in which learning through play empowers all children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners,” Sarah Bouchie, head of Global Programs at the LEGO Foundation, said in a University release. “Primary caregivers are fundamental to this aim, as they are critical to their children’s development. We are proud to partner with UNICEF, ChildFund International, RPCA at the Boston College School of Social Work, and Save the Children on this important initiative to help parents across the world incorporate playful learning in their daily lives.”

The job of the interventionists will be to actively coach caregivers in their district on how to properly care for their children. Farrar said that something that will make this particular study unique is that interventionists will set aside 15 minutes per coaching session to have the caregivers play with their children. The interventionist will watch and coach the caregiver on how to most effectively play with their child in order to foster development and learning. This added element of play, Farrar said, is one reason the LEGO Foundation was attracted to their project.

Farrar pointed out that, although national governments often say they want to roll out certain projects, there is often a disconnect between their goals and what actually happens in communities. Because of this, RPCA will actively ensure the continuation of effective communication at all levels of the government in Rwanda. It will accomplish this by scheduling frequent meetings with interventionalists across all three districts to share the knowledge and data they have gathered.

Farrar said that the end goal of this project is to be able to present a plan to Rwanda’s government on how to most effectively coach caregivers. She said that, in the end, RPCA wishes to remove itself from the equation and to have the Rwandan government control the instructing of caregiving.

Farrar expressed that RPCA is extremely excited about partnering with the LEGO Foundation. 

“One of the great things about partnering with an organization like LEGO is that they’re very much in tune to the Rwandan context and culture, so they’re a very engaged funder,” Farrar said.

Featured Image by Celine Lim/Heights Editor

November 10, 2019