Kristin Schubert, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

TITLE: Director

FUNDING AREAS: Public health issues for vulnerable populations and adolescents

CONTACT: kschubert@rwjf.org, 877-843-7953

IP TAKE: Schubert, an expert on adolescent health, leads what is essentially the anti-poverty division of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

PROFILE: While most of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's grantmaking directly addresses health issues, the Vulnerable Populations program is a very different creature. It's predicated on the idea that health is inextricably linked to social and economic issues, and that there's only so far we can get addressing health without addressing the social determinants of health. As a result, this program area funds projects at the nexus of health and socioeconomic well-being, and—like so much of the foundation's funding—looks for initiatives that can have proven impact and that can be scaled up. Schubert has explained: "When we think about scale, we're talking about that far-reaching social impact that can fundamentally change the systems or forces that affect the health of vulnerable populations."

Those may sound like the words of a liberal sociologist, but Schubert was actually trained in molecular biology as an undergraduate and later got a Master's in Public Health from Yale. Her own work at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where she's been since 2000, has focused heavily on young people. More specifically, Schubert has seen public health benefits in confronting and addressing problems that arise in adolescents' intimate relationships. She's a well-respected speaker on such subjects as teen relationships and dating violence.

What does high school romance have to do with public health policy? And what implications does Schubert's expertise in the area of healthy adolescent relationships have for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's grantmaking? In an interview with Chicago's "violence interrupters," Cure Violence, Schubert sheds a little light on how her seemingly unusual background relates to important strategic goals in health policy and general wellness in American communities.

We know that the child who was abused is that much more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of bullying a few years down the line, and then is that much more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of dating violence a few years later in high school, and then is much more likely to be a part of more family violence later on. There's no form of violence that stands alone. It's a multigenerational phenomenon that is passed down...

...We're learning about what happens when you do not feel safe inside your home or in your neighborhood, or in your school, and the effects on your mind and body. That kind of exposure to trauma and toxic stress affects you physically and mentally. It changes your brain, it changes your perspective, and it changes your behaviors.

Essentially, Schubert argues that by educating adolescents about healthy relationships and abusive behaviors, we can stop violence in communities before it starts and thereby prevent the public health dangers that come from existing in a violent relationship, household, or environment.

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,  Schubert has focused not only on violence prevention in teenage relationships but also on other facets of adolescent health care, including access to health coverage and understanding the health-related impacts of the juvenile criminal justice system.

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