The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced that it has awarded the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, a five-year competitive grant renewal of $1.2 million in Year 1, with options to add two more projects in subsequent years.

“This major award will significantly expand our efforts to integrate proven safety strategies into programs of organizations and businesses that are best-positioned to influence the safety of children living and working on farms," said Barbara Lee, Ph.D., National Children's Center director. “We want to ensure that optimal safety interventions and guidelines are sustained beyond the span of the grant period."

The National Children's Center is one of 11 agricultural centers funded by NIOSH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the only center dedicated to childhood agricultural injury prevention. NIOSH has supported the National Children's Center since 1997.

The new NIOSH grant includes six distinct research studies and an outreach program, along with administrative, scientific and evaluation oversight. New studies to be launched address some of the most pressing safety concerns including youth operating ATVs for farm work, adolescent mental health, and the impact of available childcare on safety practices.

Principal investigators within the Research Institute include Lee; Casper Bendixsen, Ph.D.; Bryan Weichelt, Ph.D.; Marsha Salzwedel, Ed.D.; Florence Becot, Ph.D.; and Jeffrey VanWormer, Ph.D. External principal investigators are Farzaneh Khorsandi, Ph.D., and Fadi Fathallah, Ph.D., University of California-Davis; Shoshanah Inwood, Ph.D., Ohio State University; and Josie Rudolphi, Ph.D., University of Illinois. Andrea Swenson, Ph.D., will oversee evaluation of the center's process, outcomes and impact.   The center will continue to partner with Migrant Clinician's Network, working with Amy K. Liebman, M.P.A., and her team of professionals dedicated to improving the health of migrant farmworkers and other mobile underserved populations.

“The center blends seasoned scientists with junior scientists who represent the next generation of agricultural safety and health," Lee said. “In addition, our investigators are drawn from eight fields of discipline, enabling us to approach disease and injury challenges from multiple directions."

Although the rate of non-fatal injuries to children in agriculture has dropped by 60 percent since the National Children's Center was established in 1997, agriculture remains hazardous for children and youth. About every three days, a child dies in an agriculture-related incident, and each day, about 33 children suffer preventable injuries. During the past decade, youth worker fatalities in agriculture have exceeded all other industries combined.

Bendixsen, director of the National Farm Medicine Center and associate director of the National Children's Center, said he was proud of how investigators and staff pulled the comprehensive renewal application together remotely this past spring after COVID-19 forced relocation from their offices.

“The pandemic has increased children's exposure to farm hazards," Bendixsen said. “In an era of home-schooling and with children spending increased time on the farm, it has never been more important for us to address issues of childhood agricultural health and safety."

The projects: 

  • “Surveillance of Medically Attended Agricultural Injuries in Farm Children" – VanWormer
  • “Linking Childcare to Farm Children Safety" – Becot
  • “Farm Kid Paradox: Anthropological Inquiry Into The Benefits and Risks of Child-Livestock Interaction" – Bendixsen
  • “Assessing the Impact of Traumatic Injury News Articles on Farm Mothers and Educators" -- Weichelt
  • “Farm Adolescent and Mental Health" – Rudolphi
  • “Capabilities and Limitations of Youth Operating Agriculture All-Terrain Vehicles" – Khorsandi and Fathallah
  • “Outreach Core" – Salzwedel

The National Children's Center is also supported by Marshfield Clinic Health System and through generous donations and other grants.