University of South Florida



USF professor to help improve pandemic-induced child behavioral problems through multi-million dollar federal grant

By: Cassidy Delamarter, University Communications and Marketing

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a University of South Florida professor a $5.5 million dollar grant to advance her training and research activities on child behavior – a critical focal point, especially as children and parents navigate post-pandemic repercussions.

Lise Fox at the annual National Training Institute on Effective Practices

Lise Fox at the annual National Training Institute on Effective Practices

“The social and emotional skills of children suffered as result of the COVID-19 pandemic – they haven’t adjusted,” said principal investigator Lise Fox, professor and chair of the Department of Child and Family Studies. “They’re more anxious and exhibiting more problem behavior in the classroom.”

The five-year grant will help fund the National Center on Pyramid Model Innovations – a national technical assistance center focused on positive social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes for young children with, and at risk for, developmental disabilities or delays. The center works with 32 states to implement the Pyramid Model, a framework of practices to help children thrive in their social-emotional development. 

The funding will allow Fox to further explore equity issues in expulsion and suspension rates, inclusion of children with disabilities and expand implementation of the Pyramid Model. 

U.S. Department of Education data show suspensions and expulsions are disproportionately happening to Black preschoolers and preschoolers receiving special education services  – data from the 2017-2018 school year shows rates of expulsion that are two times more than students in other groups. 

“It’s important we improve the quality of early childhood programs, so people don’t feel like suspension and expulsion are their only recourse,” Fox said. 

Fox devoted the last 25 years to understanding the underlying meaning behind challenging behavior in children. She works closely with a national team of faculty from the University of Denver, Vanderbilt University and Georgetown University to develop support strategies to prevent challenging behavior and help children develop new skills to better meet their needs. 

“We have the efficacy data that shows the practices really work for making a difference around behavior and social skills,” she said. 

The Pyramid Model was proven effective in two randomized trials. Not only did students with problem behavior have improved behavior, social skills, and more positive social interactions, but each student in the classroom experienced greater growth in their social skills than those in the control classrooms. 

The model helps early childhood programs and schools build strong relationships with all children and ensure their environments are predictable, safe, and easy to navigate, while providing interventions for children with persistent behavior problems.  

The center provides families, teachers, and specialists with free materials to teach social-emotional skills and address challenging behavior. Since many early childhood programs don’t have all of the resources that they need to fully support children, the goal is to provide each child with the proper care and instruction to develop strong social-emotional skills. 

“We have made great strides, I’m so proud of that, but it’s a big system and lots of children need our help – the next step is learning how we can do it better and more efficiently.” 

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