The Neurobiology of Adversity & Resilience in Families: Insights and Questions from Work with Immigrant and Refugee Families

TTAC hosted a daylong conference on Wednesday, May 29th featuring keynote speaker Sarah Enos Watamura, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Child Health & Development Laboratory at the University of Denver.

The conference began with a morning presentation by Dr. Watamura, which will included a thorough examination of the science of adversity and the developmental consequences of poverty and stress. We will then turn our attention to the underpinnings of resilience and what is needed to appropriately study the neurobiological signature of resilience. We discussed when and how biologically embedded adversity can be transformed into resilience, considering lifespan and family-systems perspectives.Throughout, highlighted the unique strengths brought by immigrant and refugee families and how that contributes to our understanding of risk and resilience.

In the afternoon, Dr. Watamura continued her presentation, after which Dr. Susan Chinitz, PsyD, Clinical Co-Director of TTAC,  moderated a panel discussion with experts from the fields of child welfare, early care and education, pediatrics, and mental health. The panel discussed the application of Dr. Watamura's research to clinical practice in child-serving systems. The afternoon session was permitted for audience participation and Q&A. 


  • Jacqueline Martin, DSL, LMSW, Deputy Commissioner, Division of Preventive Services, Administration for Children's Services

  • Liz Isakson, MD, Executive Director, Docs for Tots

  • Yasmin Morales-Alexander, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, The City University of New York-Lehman College Early Childhood Education Department

  • Ana Rodriguez, PhD, Licensed Psychologist, Trauma Specialist and Child Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) Trainer


About the Keynote Speaker: 

Sarah Enos Watamura, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Child Health & Development Laboratory at the University of Denver. She is also the co-director of the Stress, Early Experience and Development (SEED) Research Center. Dr. Watamura has been conducting research on physiologic stress in young children for nearly 15 years, and is part of the international community of scholars who focus their research efforts on explicating the contributing and buffering factors associated with early life stress as well as its consequences. The work being conducted in Dr. Watamura’s research has been continuously supported by federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the Administration for Children and Families and by national foundations including the Foundation for Child Development, the Aspen Institute and the Ford Foundation, and is published in high profile journals. Recent work as part of the Buffering Toxic Stress Consortium funded by the Administration for Children and Families, worked collaboratively to measure toxic stress and to assess promising interventions to mitigate the effects of toxic stress. As part of that effort, she and colleague Dr. Phil Fisher are testing parent and child effects of “FIND: Filming Interactions to Nurture Development” a strengths-based video-coaching parenting support program. With colleague Dr. Pilyoung Kim, whose expertise includes the neurobiology of parenting, new work will assess how parental history of adversity, current stress, and maternal depression impact parenting neurobiology. Dr. Watamura has also developed two curricula to help provided broader hands-on community education around promoting health in the context of adversity – one for parents (Seedlings™) and one for direct service providers (Roots™).