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Shawna Lee Develops Tech-Savvy Parenting App

Shawna Lee, Assistant Professor of Social Work

Shawna J. Lee brings great breadth and depth to the University of Michigan, as an assistant professor at UM SSW, a faculty affiliate at the Institute for Social Research, Research Center for Group Dynamics, and a member of the Center for the Analysis of Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood (CAPCA). Lee teaches courses on research methods, program evaluation, and social policy

This project focuses on how dads want to receive information, and our initial research indicates that this delivery system will use mobile technology.

She joins the UM SSW faculty from Wayne State University where, for the past five years, her primary research interest focused on the examination of parenting factors associated with fathers and how fathers’ parenting behaviors influence risk for children.

Lee is currently principal investigator of a pilot study to examine innovative ways to deliver parent education and training to fathers in community-based settings, including the U.S. Air Force. This project builds on expertise in tailored messaging and is being developed in conjunction with the University of Michigan Center for Health Communications Research.

This pilot project will design an interactive smartphone app called Mobile Dad which uses photos and video to record a child’s development, integrated with push notifications that provide tailored parent education. Mobile Dad will be field tested with fathers who are in the United States Air Force, with the goal of enhancing father engagement in the early years.

“Moms most often gain accessibility to parenting information from pediatricians and parenting books,” explained Lee, “but dads rely on more informal sources. This project focuses on how dads want to receive information, and our initial research indicates that this delivery system will use mobile technology.”

Earlier in the year, Lee and her research team met with a cohort of dads at an Air Force base in the South, and talked with them about parenting.

“These families deal with deployment issues and dads need accessibility to parenting information outside work hours and in nontraditional settings. Using evidence-based information, we are developing an app for dads that will deliver brief messages, and work toward helping dads stay engaged as well as normalizing common parenting challenges.”

The men in the focus groups ranged from 23 to 49 years old. All of them had children, and most had at least one child under age 5.

An additional research focus is best practices to train effective child welfare caseworkers. Lee is currently the primary author of a paper to inform improved child welfare training. Her research examined caseworkers’ perspectives on how to better conduct investigations for child maltreatment. She also shadowed Children’s Protective Services staff in Detroit to better understand their investigatory practices.

Lee completed a joint doctoral degree in social work and psychology at the University of Michigan in 2005, and was a post-doctoral research scholar at Columbia University. 

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