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News Release

For immediate use:

Jan. 8, 2008

FPG Child Development Institute receives $12.8 million grant to continue rural life study

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $12.8 million grant to FPG Child Development Institute and the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to continue the largest study to date of how rural life affects child development.

Launched five years ago, the Family Life Project has been following families living in two of the four major geographical areas of high child rural poverty – the African-American South and Appalachia. Researchers have followed 1,292 children from birth in three counties in Eastern North Carolina and three counties in Central Pennsylvania. This second phase of the project will follow these children as they enter school.

“Even though more than half of all poor children live in rural areas, most of the research about children living in poverty is based on studies of urban children. Therefore, policies designed to help children living in poverty may not best meet the needs of those living in rural areas,” said Lynne Vernon-Feagans, the study’s principal investigator and FPG fellow. “Our findings will have important implications for local and national policies and the services most needed by rural families."

For example, geographic isolation is a condition unique to rural living, said Vernon-Feagans, Ph.D., who is also William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood, Intervention and Literacy in UNC’s School of Education and a professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The first phase of the Family Life Project found that isolation was related to family dynamics: Mothers had less instability with a partner but worked more hours per week; many families had to travel long distances to work and childcare, which often led to poorer child outcomes although positive parenting helped to offset these negative effects on children. 

As the project moves forward, researchers will focus on three areas specific to see how children living in rural poor communities transition to school. In the first, researchers will examine if an infant’s and toddler’s temperament predicts early school success or failure. Temperament was assessed in the first three years of each child’s life with physiological measures of saliva cortisol  by measuring stress hormones in the children’s saliva and heart-rate, as well as home observations.

Second, researchers will examine for the first time in rural, low-income communities how academic achievement is affected by language and cognitive skills and experiences before formal schooling, the nature and quality of the classroom instruction in the early grades, parenting experiences and outside school activities. 

“This second phase of the Family Life Project will be important in understanding how the early experiences of young children in rural communities predict children’s academic and behavioral success in school,” Vernon-Feagans said. 
The Family Life Project began in 2002 with a $16.5 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. This second grant is for five years.

For more information about the Family Life Project, visit

FPG contact: Tracy Zimmerman, (919) 966-0867,
News Services contact: Clinton Colmenares, (919) 843-1991,