The Center for Research on Children’s Development and Learning

The Center for Research on Children’s Development and Learning (CRCDL) evolved out of The Children’s Center, which provided clinical and outreach services to preschool age children in the Tampa Bay area through the College of Education for over twenty years. The history of CRCDL is intricately connected to that of the Children’s Center. Therefore, the history as presented below is divided into two historical periods.

The Children’s Center, 1980-2000

In 1980, through the efforts of Dr. Carolyn Lavely, the Florida State Legislature provided a direct allocation to the College of Education to create a center with continuing funding for the following two-fold purpose: 1) “to provide a functioning, diagnostically-oriented, early intervention treatment program for children identified as having special learning needs,” and 2) “to provide a pre-service teacher training field site to develop and improve competencies of students who are preparing to work with children who have special learning needs.” Initially named the Center for Children with Special Learning Needs, in 1985 the Center became known simply as the Children’s Center. The Center’s goals during its first twenty years of operation thus involved clinical service (including outreach) and training, with less direct emphasis on research.

Dr. James Barnard served as director of the center from 1980 until his retirement in 2000, with Dr. Mari T. Fernandez serving as Associate Director. The Center focused on children with special needs between the ages of 3 and 6, recognizing the importance of early intervention in the prevention and/or amelioration of serious learning problems. Summarized below are some of the Center’s activities and accomplishments during the first twenty years.

Service: The Center provided outreach services to more than 5,000 children and families and maintained affiliations with over 50 preschools and childcare centers in Hillsborough County. At several sites, most notably USF’s own Preschool for Creative Learning (formerly the Educational Research Center for Child Development, or CERCCD), this affiliation involved not only clinical services but also in-service training, parent workshops, and the development of collaborative, problem-solving teams. Another important outreach activity of the Center has been the publication of the Children’s Center Resource and Referral Directory of Services for Young Children and Their Families, disseminated widely in the community as a reference for both families and professionals in locating services.

Training: The Center has provided important clinical training experiences to over 200 students from a variety of disciplines, including early childhood education, school psychology, speech and language therapy, and special education. The Center has also provided support and learning experiences to more than 50 graduate student assistants.

Research: The Center’s research mission was closely linked to both its service and training goals. Many theses and dissertations were completed at the Center covering a variety of topics, such as the predictive validity of early childhood screening instruments, the efficacy of interventions in conflict management with young children, and parent and teacher expectations of preschoolers’ social skills.

2001: Transformation into a Research Center

The appointment of a new director, Dr. Kofi Marfo, in January 2001 marked the beginning of a new direction for the Center. With research and research-related outreach as the primary mission, the 20-year-old institution was renamed the Center for Research on Children’s Development and Learning. The Center remains faithful to the original commitment to children with special developmental and learning needs. However, to adequately reflect the broader mission of the College of Education and the valuing of a more inclusive approach to harnessing the expertise necessary to advance the College’s research mission, the Center’s overall scope of work has been broadened to encompass research and outreach work dedicated to enhancing developmental and learning environments for all populations of children, from birth to the school years.

The Center’s evolving strategic goals emphasize the identification and systematic development of specific thematic areas of research that will command priority attention for extended periods of time. The mechanism for accomplishing this is the Center Affiliated Faculty (CAF) framework, designed to capitalize on the synergy of cross-disciplinary collaborations.

In March 2005, a $100,000 renovation of the Center’s physical space was completed, with funding from multiple sources within the university. The renovation marked a significant symbolic transitional point in the Center’s development. The Center now has a laboratory equipped with technology to support observational, experimental, clinical, and other forms of research requiring analog or digital recording for later analysis (e.g., focus-group and micro-teaching research), and its video-conferencing technology is specifically aimed at promoting regional, national, and international collaborative research and development work.

Among the programs of research emerging within the Center are the following:

  • Socio-emotional development and early care, with particular emphasis on adjustment to child care and early learning settings;
  • U.S.-Canadian comparative policy analysis, with specific emphasis on policy tools targeting the early childhood years;
  • China adoption research, with particular emphasis on the identification of variables associated with behavioral adjustment outcomes, family processes, and child identity issues following adoption;
  • Inclusive education and co-teaching, with special emphasis on analysis of the co-teaching process, the inclusion climate within schools, beliefs and perceptions about inclusive education, and instructional strategies employed within inclusive classrooms;
  • Capacity building for early childhood development in Africa.

After over 25 years of service, the Center for Research on Children’s Development and Learning continues to evolve and promote its mission to improve children’s development and quality of life through research, outreach, and social policy advocacy aimed at enriching the variety of environments in which children develop and learn.

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