Penn State’s 29th annual Symposium on Family Issues, “Environmental Impacts on Families: Change, Challenge, and Adaptation”, examined the role of the physical environment in family relationships, behaviors, and well-being, with a focus on disasters, climate change, and the built environment.
“Environmental Disasters,” was moderated by Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) cofunded faculty member Alexis Santos, assistant professor of human development & family studies and demography at Penn State. It focused on the social, demographic, and health impacts of environmental disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis on communities, families, and children, as well as the role of individual and community resilience and government programs in recovering from such disasters.
David Abramson, clinical associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at New York University, presented on family resilience and disasters. In his study, Abramson cited those affected by Hurricane Katrina as a case example for studying the lasting effects of disasters on children and families.
This was then followed by a presentation by Elizabeth Frankenberg, director of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Frankenberg’s study, “Impacts of Disaster-Induced Death and Destruction on Health and Mortality over the Longer-Term,” sought to find how exposure to a natural disaster affects mortality risks and psychosocial health. Frankenberg stated that this is crucial to study as exposure to disasters rises globally.
Session one concluded with a lecture from Tara Powell, associate professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Powell’s lecture, “Interventions for children and families during disaster recovery,” explored the efficacy of immediate short-term solutions, treatment interventions and prevention interventions on the wellbeing of children affected by natural disasters.
The next session focused on the intersection of environmental conditions, socioeconomic disparities, and community resilience in response to the changing environment. Another SSRI cofund, Heather Randell, assistant professor of rural sociology and demography at Penn State, served as the moderator for the session discussinng issues including maternal and child health, family functioning, and adaptation in communities across the world.
The first lecture was given by professors Audrey Dorélien and Kathryn Grace from the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota. Dorélien and Grace’s presentation analyzed the individual- and household-level vulnerability to global warming in response to a range of demographic, social, economic, political, and environmental factors. The pair analyze the implications these factors have on health, which must be considered as analysts design climate change-health studies.
The second presentation was hosted by Amanda Carrico, associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Carrico’s study, “Family well-being in the context of environmental migration: A review and research agenda,” explored the relationship between environmental change and human migration. Carrico presented data from coastal Bangladesh to determine who environmental migrants are and answer the question of why some households pursue migration in the face of climate stress.
The final presentation was given by Shanondora Billiot, assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work. Billiot’s study focused on addressing the health implications of environmental changes among Indigenous peoples.
The final session, “The Built Environment,” focused on the role of the built environment on the well-being of families — such as the proximity of houses to food and community opportunities. The efficacy of neighborhood development programs on children, adolescents and families was also addressed during the session, which was moderated by Selena Ortiz, assistant professor of health policy and administration and demography at Penn State.
The session began with the presentation, “The built environment, family processes, and child and adolescent health and well-being,” given by Kim Ferguson, dean of graduate and professional studies at Sarah Lawrence College and Gary Evans, professor of human ecology at Cornell University.
Ferguson and Evans’ study explored the ways in which the physical characteristics of settings in which children live can influence their interactions and relationships — and thus their overall wellbeing. By analyzing key components of the physical environment such as household buildings and nearby outdoor spaces, the pair examined the role of the built environment on family interactions.
Following this presentation, the University of Michigan’s Associate Research Scientist Laurie Lachance spoke on how creating opportunities for increased physical activity through improvements to local natural spaces, road design and school systems can improve the health of children and families. Lachance used the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health [REACH] project in southeast Michigan as a case example.
The final lecture of the Family Symposium was on the intersection of caregiving and urban planning, presented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s doctoral candidate Andrew Binet and Professor Mariana Arcaya.
Through interviews with community members of the Greater Boston area, Binet and Arcaya aimed to answer the question of how the work of everyday family caregiving is dependent on and shaped by the urban environment in which it takes place. The pair concluded that caregiving must be a priority factor in urban planning.
The Family Symposium series is funded in part by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and sponsored annually by Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute, Population Research Institute, the departments of sociology and criminology, human development and family studies, and psychology, as well as the Child Study Center and Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center.