My research program focuses on the experiences of youth who have been maltreated, as well as those who become involved in the child welfare system and other child-serving systems (e.g., mental health, juvenile justice). As a clinical-community psychologist, I use applied research methods that engage system leaders, policymakers, and practitioners in research to address critical systems issues, evaluate effects of program and policy initiatives, and promote effective system change. I use a trauma-informed social-ecological framework to examine individual, family, and other contextual influences on the relation of maltreatment to child behavioral health outcomes. My research examines the effects of maltreatment and other adverse experiences on child and adolescent mental health and wellbeing, their system involvement trajectories, and the effects of interventions to reduce negative outcomes of these experiences. I also conduct research on system-change initiatives to improve organizational capacity to meet the needs of children and families.
A central focus of my research is to understand the effects of individual, family, and contextual risk and protective processes on child welfare outcomes for children and their families following maltreatment. Leveraging child welfare administrative data systems, I study child, family, and case-related factors that impact child safety, permanency, and wellbeing. Examples include analysis of factors associated with re-maltreatment among children after system contact (Connell et al., 2007; Connell et al., 2009), as well as foster care outcomes such as placement instability (Connell et al., 2006a) or exits to permanency (Connell et al., 2006b; Vanderploeg, Connell, et al., 2007). I also conduct secondary analysis of existing datasets (e.g., the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD); and the National Survey of Child Adolescent Wellbeing (NSCAW)) to study contextual influences on child and adolescent outcomes within the child welfare system at a national level and to identify high-risk subgroups within CPS and the broader child welfare system, which may then become the focus of prevention or intervention services.