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Tanager, Universities Launch Research Center

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Lessons from troubled children and families treated at Tanager Place will help guide future families' treatment and how it's provided under a new program announced this morning.

The Tanager Place Research Center will "facilitate research that has the potential to expand knowledge and improve the lives of children and families," said Katherine Van Blair, chair of the psychology department at St. Ambrose University and a board member of the new center.

Tanager Place, the Cedar Rapids non-profit founded in 1879 that provides treatment for children with psychological, social or educational problems, will provide the setting for researchers who will observe therapeutic techniques in action. Researchers will also draw on data, including more than a century's worth already in the books, to determine the most effective treatments, helping insurors and government agencies make better decisions about which to fund.

"The future will be built not only on what we believe, but what we know," said Tanager Place CEO George Estle. He said the 3,000-plus children treated every year in residential and out-patient programs "provide a rich research pool for the Tanager Place Research Center."

Estle said the center's start-up funding, $130,000 for its first three years, is from foundation grants.

Those in the field may see the results of Tanager research within a year, said Brenda Payne, an Iowa City psychologist and board member.

"We know what works, we see it every day, but we need to have the data to back it up," said Payne. "Just as a provider, the more I know about what works, the better I can use it to provide care for kids."

The research center's board includes members from Coe and Cornell colleges, Mount Mercy and St. Ambrose universities, and the University of Iowa. The center will put out requests for research proposals shortly, and board members will review and approve the proposals.

Board member Jacob Christenson's specialty is policy research - gathering and organizing the data to determine how resources are distributed.

"The cost factor is going to be more important" as the government becomes more involved in health care, said Christenson, assistant professor of psychology and director of its master of family therapy program. "We're trying to argue for ourselves, but we don't have the data to back it up."

"There's so many possibilities," said Van Blair, chair of St. Ambrose's school of social work. "I'd think in the long run the quality of services for kids and families in Iowa and the Midwest will be affected. Just to have a place where you're doing such great work is a great opportunity."

Estle said the Tanager Place center is the only one of its kind in Iowa and there are "very few" nationwide. Work on the project began about two years ago after he took the idea to Van Blair and Wendy Dunn, chair of Coe College's psychology department.

"This was a logical extension of Tanager Place, and we need to take a step," Estle recalls telling them. "Does this make any sense? And they were very encouraging."

"It's great to have the opportunity to actually do something with research that's informed by your practice," said Dunn. "So often, there's a disconnect. This is the beginning of a whole new way of thinking about research practices."

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