Research News

New grants allow UW’s Valdez to expand Fortalezas Familiares initiative for Latina mothers with depression and their families

August 07, 2017

UW-Madison’s Carmen Valdez was recently awarded two new grants to support the expansion, implementation and further evaluation of the Fortalezas Familiares initiative.

Fortalezas Familiares, or Family Strengths, was first piloted by Valdez and her team in 2010 and today is a 14-week, multi-family intervention for Latina immigrant mothers with depression, other family caregivers and their children.

The program aims to enhance the resources that families have to cope with maternal depression by improving communication and families’ understanding of depression and negative family interactions, building parenting competence and confidence, and promoting children’s positive coping strategies and efficacy.

Carmen Valdez
“Fortalezas Familiares is really at the heart of the Wisconsin Idea, where we are looking to take what we have learned in research to date and apply these findings to solve problems and improve the health and quality of life of people around the state,” says Valdez, an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Counseling Psychology.

This latest round of funding will enable Valdez and the Fortalezas Familiares team to conduct a pilot trial of the program with Latino families in Madison and Milwaukee schools.

One grant is a $150,000 dissemination and implementation (D&I) award, to be used over the next 18 months, from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The second award is for $127,000 over two years from the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), and is intended to supplement the  D&I award. WCER, which is housed within UW-Madison’s School of Education, is one of the oldest and most productive education research centers in the world.

In the past, Valdez and her team have administered the program themselves in various settings, including schools. But the new awards will allow the researchers to test out the feasibility of growing the program by teaching people within schools and health clinics how to carry out Fortalezas Familiares in schools.

“To grow Fortalezas Familiares, we need to find ways to teach others how to administer the program,” says Valdez. “So an implementation package will allow us to train student services staff such as school counselors, social workers, parent liaisons and other paraprofessionals. We’ll teach them about depression and how it can affect children and families in the Latino community. We’ll explain and teach techniques of the intervention and find out if we can train people to successfully deliver Fortalezas Familiares.”

Beginning this fall, Valdez and her research team will start partnering with schools and mental health clinics in Madison and Milwaukee to develop a Fortalezas Familiares implementation package, which is to include items such as training materials and administrative protocols.

Valdez explains that training materials, for example, will consist of intervention manuals, a training website with video modules, and an in-person workshop. The research team will also conduct focus groups with Latino families, and adapt the intervention so it can be useful to both foreign-born and U.S.-born Latino parents and their children.

Another goal will be to work with school and clinic administrators to understand the conditions under which the program can be adopted in schools. “We’ll need to listen to our partners and their staff, and be flexible and open to thinking about how we can best make this initiative work,” says Valdez.

Ultimately, the research team will evaluate the implementation package via surveys, online quizzes, focus groups and intervention fidelity checks. The information collected will help the researchers prepare a federal grant to conduct a larger randomized trial of the program in schools.

To date, Valdez says the Fortalezas Familiares program has served about 25 families in Madison, and the new initiative is set to double that number and expand to Milwaukee.

“The ultimate goal is to find the best way to build capacity in the schools to better serve more families,” says Valdez.