GloCal fellow Lauren Haack: from small town USA to advocate for Latino kids

September 25, 2017

Maybe Lauren Haack was destined to be a child psychologist and scientist.

But how did a girl from Hartland, WI (population just over 9,000; 95 percent white) – wind up last year in Culiacán, Mexico (largest city and capital of the state of Sinaloa) to introduce an intervention program so that youth with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Disorder (ADHD) are understood and not shunned?

Haack, a 2016-17 UCGHI GloCal fellow and recently appointed to the UCSF faculty as an assistant professor and attending psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry, said her interest in child health is rooted in her experience as a summer counselor at YMCA Camp Minikani, about 30 minutes from Milwaukee.

“After my camp counselor experience, I really enjoyed my high school AP psychology class, decided to major in psychology at Clemson University and never looked back,” she said. “When I applied for PhD programs in clinical psychology, I narrowed my search to programs with a focus on evidence-based treatment for youth and families.”

In her pre-teen years, she also got some good fatherly advice: “Learn to speak Spanish and you will always have a job.”

“I started taking Spanish classes in sixth grade, continued all the way to AP Spanish in high school, minored in Spanish during college, and completed a study abroad semester in Spain during my junior year,” said Haack.

In graduate school at Marquette University in 2007, Haack began seeing Spanish-speaking families in the ADHD clinic and found that many Latino children were not meeting criteria for ADHD despite families reporting substantial impairment related to inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity. “This inspired me to begin researching cultural influences to ADHD conceptualization, assessment and treatment, particularly within the rapidly growing Latino community,” she said.

During her clinical internship and postdoctoral fellowship at UCSF, she adapted the Collaborative Life Skills (CLS) school-home intervention program -- developed by her UCSF mentor Linda Pfiffner, professor of psychiatry -- for Spanish-speaking families in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD).

“I also worked closely with a visiting scholar from Mexico, Dr. Eva Araujo,” said Haack. “As we collaborated on the project, she informed me that there were no similar programs available in Latin America. That sparked my idea to adapt, implement and evaluate the CLS program in Mexico, for which I applied for and received a GloCal fellowship.”

ADHD affects some 5 to 10 percent of children worldwide. Latino youth, said Haack, are especially hard hit by mental health disparities from poor identification of the condition and lack of services for kids. In Mexico, the school dropout rate in some areas is as high as 50 percent.

In Culiacán, Haack’s GloCal research project offered a model for helping kids with ADHD: treat their parents, caregivers and teachers.

She recruited 32 students in first through fifth grades, along with families and school personnel, in a six-week CLS program aimed at developing “positive strategies” to manage kids with ADHD. (See story here). In the end, “the outcomes and improvements were significant,” said Haack.

Now, in addition to her clinical work at UCSF, she continues research on the CLS program in Spanish within SFUSD and the Sinaloa School District in Mexico (called CLS-FUERTE). The studies are funded by UC-Berkeley's Research Program on Migration and Health (PIMSA).

“I also am working with faculty at UC-Riverside to develop a global mental health course for UCGHI,” said Haack. “I have aspirations to develop and evaluate a novel community-based prevention program to reduce health and mental health disparities for Latino youth of immigrant families.” 

“My long-term career goal is to have an independent program of research, teaching and clinical practice focused on accessible and culturally appropriate evidence-based services for vulnerable youth and families.”

The native of Hartland, WI has indeed come a long way since her summer camp days.