intervention, developed by the University of Delaware’s Mary Dozier, to
help parents and caregivers nurture neglected and at-risk children has
had demonstrated success in the U.S. and abroad.
Now, in an agreement that’s a first for UD, researchers at a Russian
university will partner with Dozier to implement the intervention in
that country and study its effectiveness with children who have been
living in orphanages.
The agreement with Saint Petersburg University took effect in early
July and will “establish linkages and create the foundation for mutual
cooperation and collaboration” among the disciplines that the two
institutions have in common. It is the first such agreement that UD has
reached with a university in Russia.
“We consider the particular project [involving her team’s research]
exciting, but the possibilities for the future even more so,” said
Dozier, who is the Unidel Amy E. du Pont Chair in Child Development in
the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the 2016 recipient of UD’s Francis Alison Faculty Award.
Dozier is internationally known for her work in the development of
young children who have experienced neglect or other adversity. She
leads the Infant Caregiver Project at UD, where she and her team have
developed an evidence-based intervention for parents and other
caregivers of these vulnerable children.
The intervention, known as Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up
(ABC), has been used with parents of children at risk for maltreatment
or neglect, as well as those caring for foster children and
internationally adopted children. It focuses on helping parents with
three main skills — providing nurturing care, following the child’s lead
and avoiding frightening behavior.
Parents take part in 10 sessions to help them develop those
skills, in which ABC-trained “coaches” visit the families in their
homes, observing and providing feedback on how the parents and children
Dozier’s follow-up research over the years has found that ABC
participants develop long-term, improved responsiveness to their
children. In turn, the children are found to have developed more secure
attachments and to have better regulated their behavior and emotions.
“When children have experienced adversity, they really need nurturing
and responsive care,” Dozier said. “When parents are nurturing,
children learn to rely upon their parents when distressed; when parents
follow their children’s lead, children develop self-regulatory skills.”
The Russian study will look at 40 children who have been placed from
orphanages into what are called foster homes in Russia but which are
expected to be permanent placements, similar to an American adoptive
family. Half of those families will take part in the ABC intervention,
with the results compared with those who have no intervention. Both
groups will also be compared with 40 other children—half who remain in
orphanages and half who live with their birth families.
“ABC is being used in a few other countries, but this project is
especially interesting because it’s the first foreign country with a
randomized research study,” Dozier said.
The project is being implemented on a small scale with donor funds,
but Dozier said she hopes to apply for grants to expand it in the
future. Much of her previous work has been supported by the National
Institutes of Health.
The research she and her colleagues are conducting in Russia seeks to
evaluate the results of using the ABC intervention according to four
The team will observe the children’s behavior, specifically their
attachment to their caregivers, and the parents’ sensitivity to the
children’s needs. Researchers will also measure two biological
functions—the children’s production of cortisol, a hormone that is
released as part of the body’s response to stress, and the process of
DNA methylation, or measurable changes in genes that occur because of
The cortisol will be analyzed in laboratories at St. Petersburg
University, and the DNA work will be done at UD in collaboration with
Tania Roth, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences.
Roth’s research focuses on the changes in gene regulation and activity
triggered by mistreatment and investigates whether those changes may
cause behavioral problems.
As one of Russia’s two universities with specially designated
research status, St. Petersburg has benefited from government investment
in what Dozier described as “very impressive core facilities.” Because
of the collaborative research, she said, the lab work is being conducted
in Russia at no cost to UD.
Dozier visited St. Petersburg recently and met with administrators at
the university there. They were enthusiastic about the research
partnership and about other possible collaborations and scholar
exchanges with UD, she said.
Article by Ann Manser; illustration by Jeff Chase