This summer, I was an intern for the Director for the Center of Adolescent Health, Dr. Phil Leaf. This was my first research experience, so I wanted to take this opportunity to learn more about research from the inside out and see if I wanted to continue doing research after my undergraduate degree. Currently, I am a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying public health and sociology. I was interested in working at the Center of Adolescent Health because I thought that it would be a great opportunity to use my interdisciplinary skills and apply them to the real world. When I came into the office in late May/early June, Dr. Leaf was in the middle of a project regarding the children of incarcerated parents. Throughout the summer, I helped him with a report, assisted in preparing material for the conference hosted by the Family League of Baltimore, and worked on an independent project that ultimately ended in a poster presentation at The Career, Academic, and Research Experiences for Students (C.A.R.E.S.) Network and Symposium by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

When I started interning for Dr. Leaf, he was in the middle of conducting interviews for his report. His report focused on assessing programs and organizations in Baltimore that provide services for children of incarcerated parents and whether or not they were effective. This report served as a way to look into these services and discuss what should be improved in the future. I accompanied him throughout these interviews and took notes on the significant themes and points that were addressed. We interviewed parents, children ages 15-17, faculty from the Baltimore Health Department, and faculty from the headquarters of Baltimore City Public Schools both individually and in focus groups. After we conducted these interviews, I did qualitative data analysis and coded for common themes. I also did research on specific organizations and programs that were brought up by the interviewees so that we were more familiar with the services that they discussed during the interviews.

Moving forward, Dr. Leaf had to submit a report to the Family League of Baltimore so that it could be presented at their conference, which focused on assessing the lives of children and families of incarcerated persons. Throughout the report, I was responsible for working on the appendix, proof reading the report, and assisting Dr. Leaf with anything that he needed for its publication and presentation at the conference. By helping Dr. Leaf with this report, I learned about the many health disparities that existed in Baltimore, the policies behind helping children and families of incarcerated persons, and other statistics and rates regarding incarceration and health inequity in Baltimore. I have never done research on this population before, so it was interesting to learn about this issue and to be a part of a potential solution. For my independent project, I chose to continue doing research on children of incarcerated parents but also having a more specific focus on a public health issue that has always interested me. Mental health has been a topic of interest since I began taking public health courses, so I wanted my research to focus on children of incarcerated parents and whether or not they were more susceptible to mental health disorders, specifically depression, anxiety, and violence-related disorders. For the rest of the summer, I worked on developing my individual project and produced a poster for the C.A.R.E.S. symposium at the end of July.

Ultimately, my project focused on whether or not arrests occur in the neighborhoods with the most issues regarding the social determinants of health and the implications that this relationship has on children, families, and communities. I wanted my project to have a larger focus on mental health, but I learned that there isn’t a lot of research available about children of incarcerated parents and their susceptibility to mental health disorders. Moving forward, I want to continue my research on similar topics and focus more on mental health. I realized that this research and resource is needed in order to improve the lives of children in Baltimore and across the nation, and I want to be a part of the work that lies ahead. I learned so much about myself, public health, and research this summer, and this by far has been one of the best summers of my life!

By: Leticia Salaza

Leticia Salazar attends the University of Pennsylvania. As a participant in the Maternal Child Health Careers/Research Initiatives for Student Enhancement - Undergraduate Program (MCHC/RISE-UP), she worked with and learned from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health.