Grant enables aspiring education and speech professionals to support children with neonatal abstinence syndrome

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 13, 2023) — The University of Kentucky received a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to prepare aspiring early childhood educators and speech/language pathologists to collaboratively provide high-quality services to children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and other high-intensity needs. 

Over the course of the five-year grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, eight interdisciplinary early childhood educators and eight speech/language pathologists will be trained together. Students accepted into the interdisciplinary program will receive funding for graduate school tuition, travel and a stipend. Together, they will complete coursework and field experience hours to prepare to earn a teaching certificate or speech-language pathology licensure.  

UK College of EducationInterdisciplinary Early Childhood Education faculty on the project include principal investigator and project director Jennifer Grisham, Ph.D., professor; co-principal investigator Sarah Hawkins-Lear, Ph.D., assistant professor; and Caroline Gooden, Ph.D., adjunct professor and training director for the Human Development Institute. The Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education program is housed in the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Counselor Education. 

UK College of Health Sciences faculty on the project include co-principal investigatorsJudith Page, Ph.D., professor, and Joneen Lowman, Ph.D., associate professor, both in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. 

The project “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Training for Interdisciplinary Providers (NASTIPS)” will see half of the scholars work toward a master’s degree in interdisciplinary early childhood education and the other half work toward a master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders. Through shared coursework and field experiences, the scholars will have the opportunity to work with and learn from professionals in at least 14 Kentucky sites. 

“The impact of this grant will extend beyond our campus,” Grisham said. “Hundreds of children with high-intensity needs, as well as their families, will benefit from this project through the services our students will provide while in training. The scholars will participate in shared training experiences in high-poverty areas and schools in Kentucky to promote improvements in the lives of children and families, and to empower interdisciplinary professionals in underserved, high-need, multilingual schools.” 

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a postnatal drug withdrawal syndrome caused by in utero exposure to opioids.  

“Kentucky has among the highest rates of this syndrome in the nation, with no personnel preparation programs to address this critical need,” Grisham said. 

There is an urgent need for trained scholars who can conduct developmentally appropriate assessments of children and provide evidence-based interventions, she said. 

“We know from research that high-quality training and experiences for professionals in this field are associated with both short- and long-term improvements in young children’s development,” Grisham said. “Our scholars stand to make many lasting impacts throughout their careers.” 

The grant will also help provide the kind of interprofessional opportunity that students need to prepare for their careers.  

“Children with high-intensity needs and their families depend on a team of professionals for their care,” Lowman said. “The interprofessional nature of the grant will prepare early childhood educators and speech-language pathologists to function effectively as a team as they support this vulnerable population and their families.” 

NASTIPS will provide unique interdisciplinary educational and practicum experiences to empower our scholars in speech-language pathology and early childhood education to positively impact the lives of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and their families,” Page said. “Bringing an informed interdisciplinary approach to the treatment of these high-needs children will prepare the scholars to be leaders in the field of NAS service delivery in Kentucky and beyond.” 

For more information about enrolling in the program, contact Jennifer Grisham, Ph.D., at 

This project is supported by the Office of Special Education Programs of theU.S. Department of Education as part of an award H325K230041 totaling $1,137,159 with 100% funded by the Department of Education. 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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