Faculty Directory

Theresa S. Betancourt

Salem Professor in Global Practice

Director, Research Program on Children and Adversity (RPCA)


Theresa S. Betancourt, ScD, MA, is the Salem Professor in Global Practice at the Boston College School of Social Work and Director of the Research Program on Children and Adversity (RPCA). Her central research interests include the developmental and psychosocial consequences of concentrated adversity on children, youth and families; resilience and protective processes in child and adolescent mental health and child development; refugee families; and applied cross-cultural mental health research. She is Principal Investigator of an intergenerational study of war/prospective longitudinal study of war-affected youth in Sierra Leone (LSWAY). This research led to the development of a group mental health intervention for war-affected youth that demonstrated effectiveness for improving emotion regulation, daily functioning and school functioning in war-affected youth. This intervention, the Youth Readiness Intervention (YRI), is now at the core of a scale-up study within youth employment programs now underway in collaboration with the World Bank and Government of Sierra Leone as a part of the NIMH-funded Mental Health Services and Implementation Science Research Hub called Youth FORWARD

Betancourt has also developed and evaluated the impact of a Family Strengthening Intervention for HIV-affected children and families and is leading the investigation of a home-visiting early childhood development (ECD) intervention to promote enriched parent-child relationships and prevent violence. This intervention, called Sugira Muryango (Strengthen the Family), has a focus on father engagement and violence reduction and can be integrated within poverty reduction/social protection initiatives in low-resource settings. With support from The LEGO Foundation, the RPCA will be conducting implementation research on the PLAY Collaborative, a multi-level strategy to scale out the intervention to all families ranked as living in extreme poverty across three Districts in Rwanda in the years ahead. Domestically, she is engaged in community-based participatory research on family-based prevention of emotional and behavioral problems in refugee children and adolescents resettled in the U.S. She has written extensively on mental health and resilience in children facing adversity including recent articles in Child Development, The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Social Science and Medicine, JAMA Psychiatry, AJPH and PLOS One. Her work has been profiled in the New Yorker, National Geographic, NPR, CNN.com and in an interview with Larry King.

Selected Publications

Su, S., Frounfelker, R. L., Desrosiers, A., Brennan R.T., Farrar, J., & Betancourt, T. S. (2021) Classifying childhood war trauma exposure: Latent profile analyses of Sierra Leone’s former child soldiers. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13312

Hunt, X., Betancourt, T.S., Pacione, L., Elsabbagh, M., Servili, C. (2021) Children with developmental disorders in humanitarian settings: A call for evidence and action. Journal on Education in Emergencies. https://doi.org/10.33682/6vgm-5n34

Betancourt, T.S. ,Thompson, D., & VanderWeele, T.J.(2017). War-Related Traumas and Mental Health Across Generations. JAMA Psychiatry. http://doi.org/10.1001/jamapschiatry.2017.3530

Betancourt, T.S., Ng, L.C., Kirk, C.M., Brennan, R.T., Beardslee, W.R., Stulac, S., Mushashi, C., Nduwimana, E., Mukunzi, S., Nyirandagijimana, B., Kalisa, G., Cyamatare, F. R. & Sezibera, V. (2017). Family-Based Promotion of Mental Health in Children Affected by HIV: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(8), 922-930.

Betancourt, T.S., McBain, R. K., Newnham, E. A., & Brennan, R. T. (2015). The intergenerational impact of war: longitudinal relationships between caregiver and child mental health in postconflict Sierra Leone. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56(10), 1101-1107.

Betancourt, T.S., Frounfelker, R., Mishra, T., Hussein, A., Falzarano, R. (2015). Addressing Health Disparities in the Mental Health of Refugee Children and Adolescents Through Community-Based Participatory Research: A Study in 2 Communities. American Journal of Public Health

Santavirta T., Santavirta N., Betancourt T.S., & Gilman S.E. (2015). Long term mental health outcomes of Finnish children evacuated to Swedish families during the second world war and their non-evacuated siblings: cohort study. British Medical Journal, 350:g7753.

Betancourt, T.S., McBain, R., Newnham, E. A., Akinsulure-Smith, A. M., Brennan, R. T., Weisz, J. R., & Hansen, N.B. (2014). A Behavioral Intervention for War-Affected Youth in Sierra Leone: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 53(12), 1288-1297.

Betancourt, T.S., Ng, L.C., Kirk, C.M., Muyanah, M., Mushashi, C., Ingabire, C., Teta, S., Beardslee, W., Brennan, R.T., Zahn, I., Stulac, S., Cyamatare, F.R., & Sezibera, V. (2014). Family-based prevention of mental health problems in children affected by HIV and AIDS: An open trial. AIDS, (Suppl 3):S359–S368.

Betancourt, T.S., Scorza, P., Kanyanganzi, F., Fawzi, M. C. S., Sezibera, V., Cyamatare, F., Beardslee, W., Stulac, S., Bizimana, J.I., Stevenson, A., & Kayiteshonga, Y. (2014). HIV and Child Mental Health: A Case-Control Study in Rwanda. Pediatrics, 134(2):e464-72.

Selected Grants

1U01 MD010613-01     Betancourt (PI)


Addressing Mental Health Disparities in Refugee Children Through Family and Community-based Prevention: A CBPR Collaboration and Hybrid Implementation

Effectiveness Trial
The proposed study will employ a cross-cultural CBPR to evaluate the effectiveness of the Family Strengthening Intervention for Refugees, a preventative family home-based visiting intervention intended to mitigate mental health disparities among refugee children and families.

1U19MH109989-01      Betancourt (PI)


Youth FORWARD: Capacity Building in Alternate Delivery Platforms and Implementation Models for Bringing Evidence-Based Behavioral Interventions to Scale for Youth Facing Adversity in West Africa

This program aims to build mental health research capacity in West Africa through the scale-up and implementation of a behavioral intervention for violence-affected youth in collaboration with World Bank youth employment initiatives in Sierra Leone, followed by Liberia.

1R01HD073349      Betancourt (PI)

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Intergenerational impact of war: A prospective longitudinal study

A fourth wave of follow-up to examine the intergenerational effects of war and the post-conflict environment on a cohort of Sierra Leonean young adults affected by war as children, their children, and their intimate partners.

The LEGO Foundation
The PLAY Collaborative: Testing an Implementation Strategy for Scaling Out Evidence Based ECD Home-Visiting in Rwanda

Betancourt (PI)

Grant Purpose: A scaling out of the Sugira Muryango intervention, a home-visiting program that uses active coaching to build parent capabilities and increase responsive parenting of both mothers and fathers to promote early childhood development and prevent violence.

Oak Foundation
Sugira Muryango: Scaling Out a Father-Engaged Family Home Visiting Intervention

Betancourt (PI)

Grant Purpose: A project to increase expertise in father engagement to reduce family violence and improve early childhood outcomes in Rwandan families by building sustainable capacity to conduct and apply programs at the Center for Mental Health at the University of Rwanda.

Echidna Giving
Sugira Muryango Parenting Intervention: Opportunity to Partner on Scale-Up and Inform ECD Field

Betancourt (PI)

Grant Purpose: A project to study developmental differences and gender dynamics in Sugira Muryango implementation and promote factors that shape early childhood development outcomes, violence, and school readiness for girls.

The ELMA Foundation, The LEGO Foundation, Echidna Giving
Sugira Muryango Longitudinal Study: Understanding longer-term effects of a father engaged, play-based home visiting intervention to promote early childhood development and prevent violence in Rwanda. Betancourt (PI)

Grant purpose: A three-year follow-up study of Sugira Muryango to assess the long-term outcomes of the early childhood development (ECD) and playful parenting intervention on Rwandan families living in extreme poverty.

Selected Appointments & Awards

2017 - Salem Professor in Global Practice, Boston College School of Social Work

2020 - Blanche F. Ittleson Award, Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice

2016 - Alice Hamilton Award, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

2012-2013 - Implementation Research Institute Fellow, Implementation Research Institute, Washington University in St. Louis

Professional Activities


Scientific Freedom and Responsibility (CFSR), American Association for the Advancement of Science

Society of Social Work and Research


Society for Research on Adolescence