Dr. Cavanagh Receives Early Career Research Contribution Award

April 11, 2021

Dr. Caitlin Cavanagh recently received Photo of Caitlin Cavanaghthe Early Career Research Contribution Award from the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). This award is the Society’s most prestigious award for early career developmental psychologists. As an Assistant Professor in the School of Criminal Justice, Dr. Cavanagh is a developmental psychologist by training whose research interests focus on adolescent development and juvenile justice.

How does it feel to receive the Early Career Research Contribution Award?

It is really exciting; but I am most excited that this type of work is being recognized. Oftentimes, academic societies favor theoretical contributions, but my work is very practical and applied. To see SRCD recognize applied, community-based work is very exciting.

What inspired you study juvenile justice and adolescent development?

I have always had an interest in childhood development and have worked with kids since I was young. I am also really interested in law; I even considered being a lawyer at one point, and I volunteered as the judge of Youth Court (a diversionary program for youth who had been arrested) during high school. Through some experiences working in policy and law as an adult, I came to realize how often families and kids are at a disadvantage when they come into contact with the law. It isn’t a system that is easy to navigate for families, and youth are not always appropriately rehabilitated. This work, studying the Juvenile Justice System, marries my two interests: law and policy and healthy development for adolescents.

Was the award for your work with the ADJust Lab?

Yes, it was for the same work. A major branch of what the ADJust Lab does is the Juvenile Risk Assessment Team, a collaboration with the Ingham County 30th Circuit Court Family Division where we aide the County in data management, analysis, and program evaluation. In turn, we can pursue research questions that are both intellectually rigorous and practically relevant for the court. A second branch is a collaboration with researchers at the University of Texas, El Paso in which we partner with a youth residential detention facility and the Department of Probation. We interview youth and their parents over time to better understand the impact of incarceration on youth sleep and social development.

The ADJust Lab is interested in understanding how adolescent development can get derailed by justice system contact, specifically in the context of family relationships. Whether this is a disruption in adolescent social development or quality of relationship with family, that is what really ties together all of my research.

How did you find out that you received the award?

It was an exciting experience that I was able to share with my Doctoral Advisor, Beth Cauffman, who nominated me and has always been a major supporter of mine.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I want to thank all of my court partners; this work is not possible without their cooperation. There are often barriers to practitioners working with researchers, so I am happy that so many juvenile courts—especially locally-- have taken the risk of getting involved with juvenile justice research. I am really glad that SRCD is recognizing community based, and potentially community transformative, research because it is difficult to conduct, and it is a risk for courts to choose to partner with researchers. The more we can reward these types of community-research partnerships, the more likely we are to have future partnerships like this that can really move the field forward.