His passion: experiencing ‘families really becoming families’

“I learned quickly through my professional training and experience that early childhood is the field to be in if you want to have the biggest impact on families and the development of young lives.”

While in graduate school, Jon Korfmacher, Ph.D., thought he was studying to become a therapist who specialized in helping older children. But not long after he started working as a research assistant on a home visiting project, he knew his career trajectory was about to change.

“It took me only about a week to realize that working with young children and their families was what I really loved,” he says. “I was fascinated by that period of time when families really become families. It’s where the past, present, and future all intersect.”

Today, he is continuing to channel the passion he developed in graduate school by training students to work and be leaders in the early childhood field. For nearly two decades, he has been a professor at Erikson Institute, and he recently became director of Erikson’s Ph.D. in Child Development program. He also is internationally recognized as a leading researcher on home visiting programs, having studied extensively in-home early childhood intervention services on three continents: Europe, South America, and North America.

Research, Results, and Field Work

Dr. Korfmacher’s classroom is a place where Erikson students learn about how research studies are designed and the results are applied to work in the field. His Research Methods is required of all Erikson child development and social work students, and throughout the course, students develop an understanding of how early childhood practice is informed by the outcomes of thoughtfully constructed studies.

“I help students take abstract information and make it practical,” he says. “It’s my job to help them understand how and why research is used in particular ways so they can be aware of how best practices are developed and then used to help children and families.”

Research continues to be a priority for Dr. Korfmacher in his academic career. His primary area of interest and expertise remains grounded in understanding how young children and their families respond to different home visiting programs — just as when he was a graduate student.

He studies programs that make it possible for at-risk families to receive in-home parenting support and links to community services that help improve children’s health and well-being. But families’ experiences in these programs vary. Some families quickly engage and are greatly impacted by these services while other families never really connect. His work is focused on finding out why this happens and whether changes in the programs can improve their effectiveness for more families.

A Global Interest in His Research

Early childhood professionals around the world have taken notice of Dr. Korfmacher’s work as home visiting has become more common in countries outside the United States. He has helped drive the work to establish home visiting programs in Brazil and Chile and provided consultation on programs in Central and Eastern European countries. His latest research keeps him closer to home, as he works with the state of Illinois to develop a way to measure the quality of home visiting programs. The results will help determine how individual programs can improve and in what ways the state can assist, such as through funding for professional development.

To Dr. Korfmacher, the extensive research experience that Erikson’s faculty members bring to their courses is crucial to preparing students for their careers, and combined with Erikson’s developmental focus, it helps position graduates to become leaders in their field.

“Many students come to Erikson wanting to move into jobs working directly with children and families, and with an understanding of how research studies are constructed and applied, they can become even stronger practitioners.”