Christie L. M. Petrenko, Ph.D.
Research Associate Professor
Director of Clinical Training, Department of Psychology
Broadly, Dr. Petrenko’s research focuses on the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on child development. She is especially interested in the prevention of secondary conditions (e.g., mental health problems, school disruptions, substance use, delinquency) in individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). She is currently evaluating a preventive intervention called Families on Track for young children with FASD and their families. Related research interests also include developmental psychopathology, risk and protective factors, maltreatment, out-of-home care, and neuropsychology.
Prenatal alcohol exposure is a major public health problem and affects up to 2 to 5 percent of the population. Individuals with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure commonly have life-long impairments in cognition and behavior and are at high risk for secondary conditions (e.g., mental health problems, trouble with the law, school disruptions, substance use).
Dr. Petrenko’s early research largely focused on the neuropsychological functioning of children with FASD. She was particularly interested in the area of executive functioning and conducted several studies on how children with FASD solved problems in laboratory and social situations. In a related line of research, Dr. Petrenko investigated the effects of maltreatment, out-of-home care, family violence, and community violence exposure on children’s functioning. These experiences are very common in children with FASD, but have received limited study in this population. Dr. Petrenko plans to address this gap in the literature in future studies.
Based on her early work, Dr. Petrenko identified a strong need for appropriate interventions for children with FASD. She received a Career Development Award (K01) from the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to develop and evaluate the Families on Track preventive intervention for young children with FASD (ages 4 to 8) and their families. Using a developmental psychopathology framework, Families on Track targets multiple risk and protective factors in children with FASD and their families to deflect children onto more adaptive developmental pathways and reduce the likelihood of later secondary conditions. A randomized controlled trial is underway and Dr. Petrenko plans to follow the children and their families longitudinally to evaluate the effects of the intervention and characterize risk and protective factors for the development of secondary conditions.