Dr. Han joined the Silver School of Social Work in August 2011. She has a broad background and extensive experience in social policy analysis, with specific training and expertise in the areas of child care, parental employment, and child well-being. As a former Foundation for Child Development (FCD) Young Scholar, she has conducted path-breaking research on the development of children of immigrants, with particular attention to issues involving language and country of origin. She has also conducted influential research examining how parental work schedules (e.g., working at evenings, nights, or rotating shifts) affect child well-being. In addition, Dr. Han has extensively researched the role of early child care on children's development and the role of school environment on children's educational trajectories. Dr. Han received her PhD from Columbia University, where she also stayed for two years as a post-doctoral fellow. Since then, she has taught at Bowling Green State University and Columbia University.
As a researcher, Professor Han believes it is important to take on issues that are personal and she feels passionate about. As a working mother, Dr. Han has studied the relationship between maternal employment and child cognitive, social, and emotional well-being. As an immigrant herself, she is also particularly interested in understanding the developmental experiences of children of immigrants.
Dr. Han examined the effects of first-year maternal employment on children’s later cognitive and behavioral outcomes, including potential mechanisms for these outcomes, such as the home environment and the quality and type of out-of-home care that children receive.
When mothers go to work full-time in the first year of their children’s lives, negative effects on children’s behavior and cognition have been documented, and these effects can be persistent well into the first grade. However, such effects depend on the home environment, family resources, and the quality of child care children receive. For example, children whose families can afford quality child care and whose mothers went to work full-time during the first year were doing as well as children whose mothers who did not go to work or worked part-time. U.S. policies are lagging in addressing the contemporary needs and issues faced by today's families and thus mothers have not been provided with a friendly environment for mothers to pursue work. For women who must maintain full-time employment, through one or more jobs, often the mother’s mental health is compromised and their overwhelming schedules may lead to negative interactions with their children. Income support policies (e.g., child benefits), parental support systems (e.g., decent parental leave) and other work benefits (e.g., flexible scheduling) can compensate for the negative effects of first-year maternal employment. In other words, if we observe that children might be worse off cognitively and/or socioemotionally due to first-year maternal employment, it is not because of maternal employment per se; instead, it is related to the benefit packages (or lack thereof) that come with maternal employment.
In addition, Dr. Han’s work on examining the relationship between parental work schedules and child well-being is innovative and she was the first scholar in the nation to examine the important question of how mothers’ work schedules affect children's outcomes. Her research revealed that changes in mothers’ work schedules were accompanied by changes in child care arrangements. In particular, a higher percentage of families in which the mother changed to working nonstandard hours switched to father care, and a higher percentage of families in which the mother changed to working standard hours switched to center care. Results further indicated that the father’s work schedule was an important factor in child care decisions, with the probability of paternal care highest in families where both parents worked nonstandard hours. Results from this research shed new light on how parents moving into or out of nonstandard work schedules alter children’s care arrangements. Her other work in this area also reveals that both the timing and duration of maternal nonstandard work schedules were important to children’s later well-being.
Dr. Han’s work in the areas of maternal employment and parental work schedules received a great deal of attention among scholars, the public, and the news media (including CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, Reuters, USA Today, and LA Times, among others).
Her work on children of immigrants, which she conducted as one of the first Young Scholars by the Foundation for Child Development, has also received great attention from the scholars around the nation. As Dr. Han became more focused on immigrant populations, she realized that most studies have primarily focused on how family resources and contexts may shape children's learning development in immigrant families. However, raising children, particularly in immigrant families, requires both the family and the school to share the responsibility; she therefore directed her research focus on school settings. She aims to better understand what schools can do to help bring children to their optimal level of development. What kinds of teachers, curriculums, and services in school settings can really help children coming from immigrant backgrounds? She believes the onus should be put on the schools, and not solely on the families, so that both families and schools can complement each other to allow children the most optimal learning experiences.
Her recent work on children of immigrants has also focused on bilingualism, as she truly believes in and is passionate about the advantages of being bilingual. In fact, she cautions, "I would like to warn my audience, my research on immigrants and bilingualism is 'biased'!" She is interested in studying what it means to be bilingual from an overall identity perspective, and not just from a neuroscience perspective. “Knowing two languages means knowing two cultures, and understanding concepts from multiple perspectives,” she noted. It seems to be the case that children who know two languages recognize the diversity of their environments and thus their interactions with peers and teachers reflect their inner appreciation of the differences among people and between cultures and languages. Dr. Han advocates that second languages should be taught in schools much earlier rather than high school. She believes schools should promote and appreciate children who speak two languages, thereby creating an environment that is conducive to children who are immigrants and who speak different languages.