Professionalizing the After School Workforce: Dynamic Interactive Training

ID: 1R43HD098963-01
TERM: 09/19 – 08/20

Increasing enrollment and greater reliance on after-school programs (ASPs) for social emotional learning (SEL) coincides with research demonstrating that participation in high quality ASPs contribute meaningfully to positive youth development and mental health, especially for youth living in communities of concentrated urban poverty. These benefits rely on high quality experiences in a supportive environment with structured youth-adult interactions and well-organized opportunities for engagement. However, organizational and workforce variability across ASPs underscores the myriad challenges associated with consistent, high quality, and sustained SEL programming in ASPs. The traditional model for professional development (PD) and implementation of SEL curriculum in schools does not transfer to the after-school setting. Hence, we propose a technology-based innovation for ASP provider training in SEL programming that harnesses strengths, acknowledges limitations, and leverages opportunities inherent to diverse and complex ASPs. To our knowledge, the proposed product will be the first technology product that provides self-paced interactive instruction and practice to build workforce skills necessary for after-school providers to create and capitalize on teachable moments during after-school routines and recreation to meet the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of enrolled youth. This 12-month SBIR Phase I project will accomplish three specific aims: (1) develop a fully functioning software prototype; (2) conduct prototype usability and feasibility testing with frontline ASP youth care workers; and (3) conduct prototype testing with organizational stakeholders. The proposed SBIR project will directly address the need for innovative cost- and time-efficient solutions to engage after-school frontline providers in PD. The online curriculum will extend our team’s public health approach to professionalizing ASP youth care workers to improve program quality and, ultimately, improve social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes for youth. Iterative development and testing will enhance and document the benefits of our proposed online PD curriculum to elevate the role of ASP youth care workers to ASP professionals. Our goal is to support broad scale dissemination and use of our online SEL training suite for ASP providers. We will market the final product as a cost and time efficient means to address the PD training needs of the more than 625,000 frontline youth care workers in the U.S. after-school market.

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Chief of Research and Learning Content


Dr. Childress obtained her PhD in psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to coming to 3C Institute, she served as a research associate and a postdoctoral fellow in the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill working on a longitudinal imaging study aimed at identifying the early markers of autism through behavioral and imaging methodologies. She has 19 years of autism research experience, during which she has examined the behavioral, personality, and cognitive characteristics of individuals with autism and their family members. Dr. Childress also has experience developing behavioral and parent report measurement tools, coordinating multi-site research studies, and collecting data from children and families. She has taught courses and seminars in general child development, autism, and cognitive development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


  • autism
  • early development
  • behavioral measurement
  • integrating behavioral and biological measurement


  • Postdoctoral fellowship, Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (Institutional NRSA-NICHD), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • PhD, developmental psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • BS, psychology (minor in sociology), University of Iowa

Selected Publications

  • Elison, J. T., Wolff, J. J., Heimer, D. C., Paterson, S. J., Gu, H., Hazlett, H. C., Styner, M, Gerig, G., & Piven, J. (in press). Frontolimbic neural circuitry at 6 months predicts individual differences in joint attention at 9 months. Developmental Science.
  • Wassink, T. H., Vieland, V. J., Sheffield, V. C., Bartlett, C. W., Goedken, R., Childress, D. & Piven, J. (2008). Posterior probability of linkage analysis of autism dataset identifies linkage to chromosome 16. Psychiatric Genetics,18(2),85-91.
  • Losh, M., Childress, D., Lam K. & Piven, J. (2008). Defining key features of the broad autism phenotype: A comparison across parents of multiple- and single-incidence autism families. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics), 147B(4):424-33.
  • Wassink, T. H., Piven, J., Vieland, V. J., Jenkins, L., Frantz R., Bartlett, C. W., Goedken, R., … Sheffield, V.C. (2005). Evaluation of the chromosome 2q37.3 gene CENTG2 as an autism susceptibility gene. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics), 136, 36-44.
  • Barrett, S., Beck, J., Bernier, R., Bisson, E., Braun, T., Casavant, T., Childress, D., … Vieland, V. (1999). An autosomal genomic screen for autism. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics), 88, 609-615. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-8628(19991215)88:63.0.CO;2-L
  • Piven, J., Palmer, P., Landa, R., Santangelo, S., Jacobi, D. & Childress, D. (1997). Personality and language characteristics in parents from multiple-incidence autism families. American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics), 74, 398-411.
  • Piven, J., Palmer, P., Jacobi, D., Childress, D. & Arndt, S. (1997). Broader autism phenotype: Evidence from a family history study of multiple-incidence autism families. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154, 185-190.