In This Issue
Interview with Tisha R. A. Wiley, PhD
By Michelle Brown, MA
We are excited to follow-up with Section Award winner Tisha Wiley, PhD. Wiley was awarded the Section Dissertation Award in 2008 for her dissertation titled “The Effects of Child Maltreatment and Environmental Stability on Children's Trajectories of Aggressive Behavior.” She earned her PhD in social psychology from University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC); her adviser was Bette Bottoms, PhD. She also completed a psychology and law minor, and a statistics and methods minor.
Wiley is passionate about improving the lives of children and families. Her research initially began with a focus on perceptions of children involved in the legal system. However, her interests broadened with her involvement with Div. 37, and a meeting with Richard Thompson, PhD, at an APA annual conference. It was with Thompson's agency, The Juvenile Protection Association, that she began to work more directly with children. During her time there, she worked on a grant following children who had been victims of early abuse or neglect through adolescence, and on an National Institute of Mental Health ( NIMH )-funded study that sought to understand how African-American youth and their caregivers identified behavior problems and sought help for those problems. After successfully defending her dissertation, she was promoted to work with the agency full time as their assistant director of research.
A year after finishing her degree, Wiley began a two-year Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) fellowship working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. She now works for National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) where she manages a portfolio of grants that includes a focus on substance use treatment in criminal and juvenile justice settings, implementation science, juvenile/adolescent treatment, and the role of social/media technology in substance use treatment.
Wiley's dissertation utilized longitudinal data on children from ages 4-12 years who had completed annual interviews as part of the Longitudinal Studies of Child
Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) study. The primary goal of her dissertation was to study the interactive effects of child maltreatment and family and environmental stability over time on trajectories of aggression. In order to do this, she created a composite index of family or environmental stability (moves, divorce, homelessness, etc.) to look at patterns of stability over time and used growth mixture modeling to identify aggression trajectories. The main takeaways from her study were that youth who ended up in a stable, highly aggressive subgroup came from two distinct backgrounds: (1) children who had been maltreated early in life for whom starting off in a very stable or unstable environment and changes in the stability of their environment over time were unrelated to changes in aggression over time; and (2) nonmaltreated children whose level of aggression over time was strongly related to changes in family stability. She also found that children in this second group were reported as being more fussy as infants on average compared to their counterparts, consistent with the literature that finds some children are generally more sensitive to changes in their environment.
Wiley's largest current endeavors at NIDA is a $25-million project called Juvenile Justice – Translational Research on Adolescents in the Legal System (JJ-TRIALS) a cooperative agreement between NIDA, six universities and a coordinating center. The purpose of the project is to improve the delivery of substance abuse services and other services to juvenile justice involved youth. This project is a 36-site randomized control trial involving a system change to compare two system change strategies for reducing unmet needs for substance use in those systems. As part of the project, the team is conducting a longitudinal survey of around 200 juvenile justice agencies across the country which will assess the practices and services delivered to justice-involved youth. This effort includes judges, behavioral health providers, and community supervisory agencies. A third smaller study is looking at juvenile justice partnerships with public health to address STI/HIV risk behaviors among justice-involved youth. Wiley's role in this large-scale collaborative project is a science officer, which means that she is the lead NIDA scientist on the study and essentially functions as a co-investigator; that is, she helped design the study, works on manuscripts, etc. She also has responsibility for making sure that the project meets NIDA's goals.
Aside from her role in NIDA, Wiley continues to be passionate about the field of child maltreatment and has even been mentoring a boy in the foster care system for nearly five years. She also notes how many of the children in the juvenile justice system come from child welfare backgrounds, or never came to the attention of child welfare but still had many traumatic childhood experiences. Additionally, she continues to be involved with APA Div. 37 and SRCD, does a lot of work in the criminal justice area, and serves on her local county's Commission on Juvenile Justice, comprised of citizens and agencies involved with the system that meet monthly to look at how services can involve juvenile justice involved youth in the community.
Given her impressive work in the field of child maltreatment and juvenile justice, we asked Wiley what advice she would give to graduate students doing research in these areas. She stated that students should do some community service that really brings you into contact with the families you hope to help in your research. This allows you to see the system from multiple perspectives as well as understand and engage with these families, which leads you to ask more interesting and thoughtful questions.
Anecdotally, Wiley has gained a valuable perspective from the boy she mentors and from her own personal history as a first-generation college student who grew up in a very poor family and community. This perspective has led her to be very interested in understanding consumer interests and applying such perspectives to improve access to evidenced based treatments in the real world. Wiley noted that through working with families with these issues, the complexity of the problem at every turn comes to light more and you begin to understand the many ways in which things are limited and difficult for these families. It leads you to want to push and advocate harder while at the same time, having a more nuanced understanding of how hard it is to be in the field.
However, Wiley's passion to want kids to move forward from experiences of maltreatment and trauma to make a stable and healthy life for themselves keeps her going because the more we can do to make that path easier for them, the better the world will be.
Thank you for the excellent advice and for your contribution to the field of child maltreatment and juvenile justice.