Affiliate Profile: Caitlin Lombardi

Caitlin Lombardi, Ph.D is an Assistant Professor in UConn’s Department of Human Development and Family Sciences . Her primary research interests are the role of family, early care and education, school, and community in promoting cognitive, language, socioemotional, and health outcomes and the ways in which socioeconomic disadvantage is related to children’s development

. “I examine children’s achievement and behavioral, and mental health. Specifically, I’m interested in aspects of children’s environments that explain gaps in children’s well-being and functioning. My primary focus is those aspects of children’s environments that are related to socioeconomic disadvantages or advantages,” explains Lombardi. She aims to understand what it is about children’s environmental contexts that contributes to differences in their cognitive and behavioral outcomes. “There are large gaps between children from different backgrounds related to family income and parent educational and occupational status. I’m interested in understanding the mechanisms responsible for those gaps because once we are able to identify those, then there is an opportunity for policy and programs to target those mechanisms.”

Lombardi was a Psychology and English double major as an undergraduate and focused on educational inequalities in schools and public policies intended to reduce them. Upon graduating, she pursued a career in public policy. “I wanted to gain experience in the arena of public policy and I applied to a number of policy jobs. I was lucky enough to be hired by the Washington D.C. Office of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy,” says Lombardi. It was in this position that she found her passion was in the research that informed public policy decisions. “I became really interested in uncovering the research goes into policy. That’s when I really realized that I would like to be conducting this research in order to inform the specific policies being made,” explains Lombardi.

Involvement with CSCH
Lombardi joined CSCH because she recognized the importance of schools as domains of public policy and critical influences in the development of children. “What drew me to join is the opportunity to focus on schools, as they are a key place where policy and practice decisions are made that impact children across age groups,” she says. Lombardi emphasizes the importance of the Whole School Whole Community Whole Child Model and highlights the importance of considering developmental factors across many different contexts. “For children, schools provide a very important developmental context and they provide an opportunity to enact policies and programs that are effective at reducing inequalities related to children’s home backgrounds,” she says.
Currently Lombardi is looking at aspects of children’s learning environments in early care settings. One project that she is finalizing is looking at different aspects of children’s early care and education settings in terms of how they explain later income-based differences in children’s achievement skills. “We were surprised to find that caregiver reading was an extremely predictive measure of children’s reading and math skills and explained a significant portion of the gaps in those skills,” explains Lombardi.

Fun Facts
Dr. Lombardi has three children and talks about her growth as a “full-fledged remote teacher,” because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “I have definitely experienced the school-parent-community partnership in a different way. It has given me a lot of empathy and a deeper understanding of the work of teachers and administrators and the processes of children’s learning,” says Lombardi. Follow her on Twitter: @caitlombardi