Current Studies


The TRC is involved in research projects that range from simple data requests to multi-year research projects. The projects listed here cover an extended time period and are focused on supporting the implementation of the Boys Town Continuum of Care.

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We are not recruiting research participants at this time. Please check back in the future for new research opportunities.

Areas of Research

  • Program Description
    Common Sense Parenting (CSP) is a 6-session group workshop-based parent training program for parents of children ages 6-16. Components address key parenting behaviors, such as preventive and corrective teaching as well as the provision of praise and rationales.

    Stepping Up to High School Study
    This project was a randomized controlled trial that evaluated Common Sense Parenting (CSP) in its standard parent-training format (6 sessions) and in an expanded format (CSP Plus), which included two additional sessions that involved parents with their children. Participants were 321 families of 8th grade students in poor-performing middle schools in the Tacoma, Washington Public School District. Results showed that standard CSP improved child emotion regulation skills at the end of middle school, and that this proximal effect was associated, in turn, with reductions in conduct problems, substance misuse, and school suspensions in high school. Contrary to expectations, neither standard CSP nor CSP Plus had strong effects on parenting behaviors with these families of adolescent-aged children. These and additional findings are being used to inform practice and help build the evidence base for CSP.
    Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Primary investigator: W. Alex Mason, Boys Town.

  • Program Description
    In-Home Family Services® provide a family-centered, skill-based intervention for families that are in or near crisis, and are at risk for having a child removed from the home. Intervention duration ranges from short- to long-term and service intensity ranges from less intensive to highly intensive, depending on the family needs. Family consultants work with families in their homes to help caregivers build on their strengths, improve their parenting skills, and identify community resources and supports. Family consultants also help families learn how to solve problems that may threaten their stability or the children’s safety after the intervention ends.

    Nebraska Family Study
    The aim of the Nebraska Family Study was to conduct a randomized controlled trial of IHFS in a sample of at-risk families, many of whom have had some previous contact with Child Protective Services and/or other public service agencies. The trial used the Nebraska Family Helpline as a vehicle for recruiting families. Three hundred families were randomly assigned to either the IHFS program condition (n = 152) or the standard Help Line service condition (n = 148). Results from primary outcome analyses showed a statistically significant reduction in caregiver strain. Suggestive outcomes included improved parenting and family resources as well as reduced child conduct problems. There were no IHFS effects on family functioning. These and additional findings are being used to inform practice and help build the evidence base for IHFS.
    Funded by Boys Town. Primary investigator: Kristin Duppong Hurley, UNL.

  • Program Description
    On the Way Home (OTWH) provides youth and their families with parent training, using Boys Town's Common Sense Parenting ® program, as well as school and homework supports to promote a positive transition out of residential care. An OTWH consultant coordinates these efforts by working with Family-Teachers® and parents before, during, and after this transition.

    OTWH Studies
    Two randomized controlled studies of OTWH have now been completed. Results from the most recent study indicated that youth were more likely to be at home 21 months after discharge from residential care and their families reported greater self-efficacy and family empowerment compared to families that did not receive OTWH. Youth, parents, and educators who received OTWH indicated OTWH was helpful, they would use the services again, and recommend OTWH to others.
    Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. Primary Investigator: Alexandra Trout, UNL.

  • Program Description
    Parent Connectors is a school-based intervention developed to provide support for families of youth with emotional-behavioral disorders who are involved in special education. The intervention uses weekly phone calls with a trained parent who also has a child with these same types of issues. These trained parents encourage participants to engage in their child's school, mental health services, and the family's informal support network, with the goal of improving the academic and mental health outcomes of these youth.

    Parent Connectors Studies
    Previous research has shown that parent support programs can increase self-efficacy and empowerment of families, as well as help to lower a caregiver's mental health issues and stress. Two pilot studies have demonstrated positive results, as has a feasibility study using Parent Connectors in the day school on Boys Town's Home Campus. Most recently, a four year grant has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to evaluate Parent Connectors. This study will evaluate the program's effectiveness with a randomized control trial involving about 250 families of middle school students in the Lincoln and Omaha areas who have Individualized Education Programs for emotional or behavioral needs. This study is intended to increase family engagement by empowering parents to become more involved in their child's psycho-educational interventions.
    Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. Primary Investigator: Kristin Duppong Hurley, UNL.

  • Program Description

    Residential Treatment Center
    The Residential Treatment Center program is designed to offer medically directed care for more seriously troubled youth who require supervision, safety, and therapy but do not require inpatient psychiatric care. The program offers around-the-clock supervision, locked facilities and numerous other safety and program features. The goal is to help children gain the self-assurance and academic and social skills to succeed in life. The Residential Treatment Center at Boys Town National Research Hospital is part of the nationally recognized Boys Town integrated system of child and family services. The Center is licensed by the Nebraska Department of Health and accredited by The Joint Commission.

    Family Home Program
    The Family Home Program serves youth with serious behavioral or emotional problems in a family-style home where youth receive teaching and care from professionally trained married couples called Family-Teachers®. Six to eight boys or girls, usually ages 10 to 18, live in each home. The couple and a full-time Assistant Family-Teacher® are responsible for providing structured supervision for youth in their daily living and care activities. This includes meeting the educational, medical, psychological, emotional and behavioral needs of the youth in care. A major focus of this program is teaching youth social, independent-living and educational skills, and helping them build healthy relationships with others. With a focus on reunification, the Family-Teaching staff works with families to achieve permanency, safety, and child well-being. When children leave, they generally return to their families or begin to live on their own (e.g., working, attending college, joining the military).

    Psychotropic Medication Studies
    Boys Town hosted an NIMH-funded scientific conference on the topic of psychotropic medication use in residential care settings, and took the lead in a special issue of a research and practice journal on this topic with contributions from scientists and practitioners from across the country. Additionally, Boys Town has conducted a series of studies focused on psychotropic medication use and behavioral treatment for youth. Results indicate that data-driven medication management can result in reduced psychotropic medication rates and still achieve positive results with behavior and psychological well-being. We have also conducted research examining the patterns of, and factors that predict, polypharmacy at the time of admission, and have published papers and book chapters that advocate for research-based medication decisions and a rationale for discontinuation for youth experiencing psychotropic polypharmacy.

    Component Analysis Studies
    Currently in the planning stage, these studies will investigate ways to strengthen our residential care programs by examining aspects of key intervention components that contribute the most to positive youth outcomes. We will present findings from these studies as they are completed.

  • Program Description
    Well Managed Schools (WMS) is a universal classroom management program designed to help teachers build positive relationships, teach and reinforce school success skills, and respond to inappropriate behavior in their interactions with students. The program is offered as a two-day training workshop followed by regular consultation visits that provide observation of teachers in the classroom and guided feedback. WMS is widely implemented in schools throughout the country.

    Well Managed Schools Study
    Currently, a randomized trial of WMS is underway. In this study, 440 teachers of students in grades 1-5 in school districts located primarily in Iowa and Nebraska are being recruited and randomly assigned to either a WMS program condition or a no-intervention (usual classroom practices) control condition. Both teachers and students are completing assessments on classroom climate, teaching skills, and student behavior and performance. The project has just begun. The first group of teachers has been recruited, half of whom have received WMS training. Additional recruitment will occur in subsequent years to reach the targeted total sample size. If results from the trial are positive, then WMS could be designated as an evidence-based program with the potential for expanded dissemination.
    Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. Primary Investigators: Cleve Redmond, Iowa State University and W. Alex Mason, Boys Town.

  • Program Description
    A fundamental question for services provided to troubled youth and their families focuses on the outcome obtained relative to the cost of the services provided. This is especially the case for residential care programs, where the high cost of services is often used as the basis for arguments about discontinuing that level of care. Boys Town has conducted and published two studies examining return on investment (ROI) for specific programs.

    In-Home Family Services ROI Study
    This study examined ROI in a family-centered in-home program for at-risk adolescents. Results showed improved educational outcomes and reduced recidivism for the program were associated with significant economic ROI.

    Family Home Program ROI Study
    This study examined how the length of program stay impacted ROI in a residential program for at-risk adolescents. This study found that longer lengths of stay, even with much higher total treatment costs, produced significantly better educational outcomes, lower recidivism, and better employment outcomes. These outcomes are associated with significant long-term economic ROI, which many times exceeded the initial high costs of the longer treatment intervention.

  • Description
    Behavioral and mental health problems are rooted in early developmental experiences and are shaped by multiple psychological and social influences. Effective prevention and early intervention efforts can interrupt the development of problem outcomes and promote positive youth development. Psychosocial Development and Risk studies examine longitudinal pathways leading toward behavioral and emotional problems, and identify risk and protective factors that either increase or decrease risk for problem outcomes over time. These studies provide essential knowledge for informing the development and refinement of interventions to prevent problem outcomes and promote positive functioning among youth.

    Cumulative Risk Study
    Risk for initiating and continuing to use and misuse drugs is higher among youth who experience multiple contextual risk factors, such as birth complications and socioeconomic disadvantage, early in development. However, the reasons why this happens over time are not well understood. In this project, we conducted analyses of data from the 1986 Northern Finland Birth Cohort (NFBCS), a large-scale study of 9,432 youth followed from birth through childhood and adolescence, and into young adulthood. Our analyses showed, for example, that the higher the number of risk factors, as early as the prenatal/birth period, the more likely a child is to initiate drug use and to use drugs frequently and in larger amounts during adolescence, sixteen years later. Additional analyses addressed the reasons why cumulative contextual risk is related to problem outcomes over time. For example, cumulative contextual risk at birth was shown to be associated with increased learning difficulties and conduct problems in childhood, which were associated, in turn, with an earlier age of substance use onset; early substance use initiation further predicted academic difficulties and school misbehavior in adolescence. These results suggest that not only should we reduce children’s exposure to contextual risks, such as poverty, but also we should work to improve the educational experiences and prosocial peer relationships of vulnerable children who do experience adversities early in development, potentially as a way to direct those children away from substance use and other problems.
    Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Primary Investigators: W. Alex Mason, Boys Town and Jukka Savolainen, University of Michigan.

    Executive Control Study
    Deficits in executive control (EC), a set of cognitive abilities for directing attention and behavior, have been proposed as important and modifiable contributors to adolescent problem behaviors, including substance use as well as co-occurring externalizing and internalizing problems. This project addresses these issues by extending an ongoing study of young children and their parents followed during preschool and the elementary school years with intensive, repeated, performance-based measures of EC (along with multi-rater, multi-method assessments of a broad array of additional factors) by collecting new data at ages 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. We are examining EC in preschool, throughout childhood, and into adolescence in relation to the onset and growth of substance use and problem co-occurrence, and conducting tests of mediation via social developmental processes. The long-term goal is to guide the development and refinement of substance use preventive interventions targeting EC as a modifiable risk factor at critical points in development.
    Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Primary Investigators: W. Alex Mason, Boys Town and Timothy Nelson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

  • Description
    The Translational Research Center collaborates with researchers at the Boys Town Center for Neurobehavioral Research (CNR) to combine applied research with neuroscience. The CNR conducts research to determine the dysfunction in specific neuro-cognitive systems that underpin different forms of impaired mental health. The two Centers work together to combine information from youth, families, and Boys Town programs with state of the art brain imaging technology to better understand the relationship between brain function, behavior problems, and treatment response.

    Neurobehavioral Development Research Studies
    Current collaborative studies are evaluating brain systems related to substance use, self-harming behaviors, and aggressive behaviors of youth receiving Boys Town services. Other studies are looking at how environmental factors such as trauma impact brain function and behavior. One of the main goals of this work is to transfer these findings to service providers and enhance interventions and services for youth. Visit Neurobehavioral Research for more information.