Karen O’Donnell, M.Ed., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center and, concurrently, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Health Policy, Duke Global Health Initiative and a Faculty Fellow at the Sanford Center for Public Policy, Duke University. She holds memberships in both the Duke and UNC Centers for AIDS Research (CFAR). With a doctoral degree in child clinical psychology and training in epidemiology and statistical methods, child development, child and parent relationships, child and family assessment, and maternal mental health are her primary areas of expertise with both domestic and international work.
Her consulting role with Georgi Education and Counseling is primary related to the joint role with Mr. Georgi in developing the first mother and child outpatient and residential substance abuse treatment programs in North Carolina. The Family Care Program was initially funded by federal grants, then by Women’s Programs with the State of North Carolina, and now, in part, by Duke Hospital. Dr. O’Donnell has several publications from her research on the effects of maternal substance abuse on fetal and infant development. The dedication to this work is based on the evidence that parenting can be central to a mother’s recovery and that the mother’s recovery is key to optimal child psychosocial and cognitive outcomes.
Other work in the area of child and family development has been with the central nervous system effects of pediatric HIV/AIDS and antiretroviral treatment. Dr. O’Donnell was the Chair of the Neurology Scientific Committee for the national AIDS Clinical Trials Group from 1993 to1997, monitoring clinical trials in over 65 sites in the U.S. International work and Publications include studies of child development with maternal iodine deficiency in China, Children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in six resource poor countries in Africa and Asia, and a group treatment for children with unresolved grief in Tanzania using Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy. She is the lead author on a tool for assessing child risk and vulnerability, the Child Status Index, used by over 20 PEPFAR countries with funding for programs for orphans. In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics, gave Dr. O’Donnell an award for Outstanding Achievement in International Health.
In North Carolina, she is a lead investigator in a program for universal home visits for newborns and their parents, the Durham Connects program, for which she developed a high inference assessment tool for identifying child and family risk factors, the Child and Family Risk Matrix.