University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: START Projects Help King County on Early Childhood Initiatives, Recidivism

START Projects Help King County on Early Childhood Initiatives, Recidivism


Two graduate students recently completed five-month research projects to help King County keep people in better health and out of jail. The projects were the first domestic assignments under the newly expanded Strategic Analysis and Research Training program (START).

From left, Anne Althauser, Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett and Phillip Hwang.

START began in 2011 as a faculty- and student-led effort within the Department of Global Health to provide strategic analysis to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It expanded last year to offer analysis to other organizations, including local public health organizations. The domestic arm was housed within the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice from Autumn Quarter 2014 through Spring Quarter 2015.

MPH student Anne Althauser (Health Services) studied government-funded prevention initiatives around the country to learn what factors led to their approval by voters. She conducted 26 program reviews and 15 in-depth interviews, of which she presented a summary to local government leaders. Her research will help King County officials prepare their own proposal to voters to support early childhood investments.

"There really is no one-size-fits-all way to do this," she said. "These types of initiatives vary greatly depending on location, political environments, funding, and more."

Doctoral student Phillip Hwang (Epiemiology) worked on the Familiar Faces project, which aims to reduce recidivism. He researched how housing, medical coverage, mental illness, and substance abuse relate to incarceration.

"King County spends seventy-three percent of its budget on criminal justice, not disease prevention," Hwang said. "To me, this indicates a broken system."

Hwang's project focused on establishing better collaborations among social service providers to support people after their release and prevent reentry into jail. Key project activities are building trust among varying agencies and improving data-sharing and cultural competency, with the ultimate goals of improving the quality of services and health outcomes while reducing costs.

"Thanks to our partnership with Public Health - Seattle & King County and the fantastic mentorship by our faculty Jennifer Otten and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, our research assistants have had a great educational experience that will help them hit the ground running on future public health practice projects," said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, director of the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice.