Who We Are
Family Connects International (FCI) is committed to strengthening bonds within families of newborns and linking them directly to supportive community care resources. Our vision is equitable outcomes for each and every newborn. FCI comprises a team of experts from across the early childhood field, including public-health professionals, research scientists, data analysts, health care providers, and policy analysts. Learn more about our Staff and Leadership.
In service of that vision, we enhance critical communication lines between local nurses trained in the Family Connects Model, families, and their community care systems of medical providers and agencies that coordinate to improve overall health outcomes. First launched in 2008 on the campus of Duke University, FCI is now an independent 501(c)3 organization committed to scale Family Connects, an evidence-based model designed to improve overall health of the newborn and advance equity for maternal-child health, while promoting healthy family outcomes and more responsive community care systems.
FCI trains community partners on how to implement the Model through tailored programming, evaluation, and policy engagement. We support partnering communities in striving to initially connect with at least 80% of their newborns’ families and work with local agencies and providers to develop comprehensive, community care systems that support optimal maternal-child health and wellbeing.
The story of Family Connects is a story of community efforts to improve the health and well-being of all families with young children.
In 2001, representatives of The Duke Endowment challenged Kenneth Dodge, the founding director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, to discover a way to improve child outcomes in Durham — specifically, to reduce the rate of child abuse and neglect in the first years of life.
The Duke team worked with local Durham families, community partners, and local stakeholders for more than six years to inform the development of the program. They also looked at evidence and learned about home visiting programs around the world, from as far away as New Zealand to our neighbors in Guilford County, NC. In Guilford County, a decades-old nurse home visiting program gave helpful insight into how home visiting could be successful in North Carolina.
Because child abuse occurs for different reasons across different families, the Duke team, in collaboration with Durham community partners, decided the best way to prevent child maltreatment and help children in Durham get a good start would be to support all families from the very beginning, regardless of their circumstances.
The Family Connects model was ultimately developed in partnership with Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy, the non-profit Center for Child & Family Health, and the Durham County Health Department. The first version was piloted in 2008 in Durham, North Carolina, and was known as Durham Connects. The program has been tested in two rigorous randomized controlled trials and a field quasi-experiment, the results of which have been published in highly-regarded journals. With the publication of positive evaluation findings, communities around the country have reached out for training and technical assistance to implement the program.
When the program spread to communities outside of Durham, the name was changed to Family Connects. Subsequently, Duke University created Family Connects International to coordinate the research, policy and implementation of the model nationally.
After a 14-year partnership at Duke University, FCI launched as an independent nonprofit, enabling it to impact more families and provide community partners with expanded services and higher levels of support to implement the Family Connects Model.
Kenneth Dodge, PhD
Founder and Principal Investigator
Kenneth Dodge is the William McDougall Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. He is also a faculty fellow at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, which he founded in 1999. Ken’s research resulted in the Family Connects model and he continues to publish important results from its two randomized controlled trials. He serves as a visionary leader for FCI as the organization expands across the U.S., and guides the policy and research innovations that move FCI toward creating a new system of care for newborn children.
Robert Murphy, PhD
Executive Director, Center for Child & Family Health
Robert Murphy is an associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, executive director for the Center for Child & Family Health, and co-founder and senior counsel with FCI. He oversees the dissemination of the Family Connects model to communities across the U.S. and collaborates with FCI leadership on strategies for expansion. In addition, Robert collaborates with the research team to publish findings.
Karen O’Donnell, PhD
Dr. Karen O’Donnell is Associate Professor (retired), Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Duke University Medical Center and Director of Prevention and Global Initiatives at the Center for Child and Family Health (also retired). She is a Senior Research Fellow at Duke Global Health Initiative. She received her graduate training in special education (M.Ed.) and clinical psychology (Ph.D.) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed post-doctoral study in Early Childhood at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. She has been a Licensed Practicing Psychologist in North Carolina since 1988. Her expertise focuses on infant and early childhood and development, traumatic stress, parenting, maternal mental health and treatment, the effects of in utero cocaine and HIV exposure on early development, and child and family assessment. Dr. O’Donnell is the lead author on the PEPFAR funded Child Status Index (CSI), now used to assess orphans and other vulnerable children in over 16 resource poor countries; the CSI provided the model for the Family Support Matrix, used in the Family Connects program. She continues to be an active participant in the implementation of the universal short-term home visiting program for newborns and their families, Family Connects, and its national dissemination.