FPG’s Will Aldridge, a Carolina triple alum, serves North Carolina through Triple P
Will Aldridge, PhD, is a Tar Heel through and through. One of more than 10 members of his extended family to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, he earned three degrees—bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in psychology—from the University. Now a senior implementation specialist at UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG), Aldridge did not envision a career in academia when he arrived at college. Instead, he was leaning toward a career in the faith-based community, like his Presbyterian minister mom.
After two fortuitous meetings with a UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences advisor who counseled Aldridge that psychology was the perfect fit for his interests, he agreed to try one class. He says that the class “fit him to a T” because of his interest in relationships and healthy development, which have always been central to who he is and what he does. In fact, he wrote his Carolina entrance essay on the importance of relationships. He says that the combination of his upbringing in the church and his lawyer dad’s ability to help people find a solution to seemingly intractable problems shaped his views about the importance of interpersonal relationships.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2002, Aldridge worked as a research assistant for a year under then Psychology Department Chair Peter Ornstein, PhD, now a professor emeritus in UNC’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and a faculty fellow at FPG. Aldridge entered UNC’s combined clinical psychology master's/PhD program in 2003 and earned his PhD in 2009. His primary focus in graduate school was on couples interventions because of his desire to study and support relationships. Training with Distinguished Professor of Psychology Donald H. Baucom, PhD, who founded cognitive-behavioral couple therapy, provided Aldridge with skills in a range of areas including distress prevention, relationship enhancement, and therapy.
After completing his first year of grad school, Aldridge realized that he did not want to be a clinician or a researcher and, instead, wished to work in the field that would eventually become known as implementation science. At that time, the evidence-based programs and practices movement was starting in the fields of psychology and mental and behavioral health. Aldridge saw well-produced, well-studied programs with evidence that they could improve outcomes that were not being adopted, implemented, or scaled.
Aldridge quickly became interested in the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, founded in Australia at the University of Queensland’s Parenting and Family Support Centre. Triple P was—and still is—the global leader in the dissemination and implementation of a suite of parent and family support programs. Introduced by Baucom to Triple P founder Matt Sanders, PhD, one of the world’s leading authorities on parenting, Aldridge spent time in Australia working and learning alongside Sanders during a summer in graduate school.
After finishing his PhD, Aldridge joined Ron Prinz, PhD, at the University of South Carolina, who was then leading several Triple P research and dissemination activities in the U.S. Prinz’s team had just completed a CDC-funded, place-based, population-level research trial of Triple P. In this randomized trial of 18 mid-sized counties, nine received the full Triple P system, while nine did not. The study found tremendous reductions in out-of-home foster care placements, substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect, and emergency department visits indicating a child injury.
“Creating large-scale community and systems improvement through meaningful relationships and connections and using evidence-based practices and programs covers every single angle of who I am,” says Aldridge. “My journey focuses on translating implementation science into practices that are teachable, learnable, doable, and repeatable for managers, leaders, and community partners.”
Interested in these results, the North Carolina Division of Public Health adopted Triple P in 2011-2012 for scale up in North Carolina. This is where multiple activities really started to come together in Aldridge’s early career. Aldridge joined FPG in 2012, working for the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN). He was soon approached by The Duke Endowment, which was getting interest from community partners across North Carolina to also fund Triple P. Before investing any funding, the endowment requested an evaluation study to ensure there was sufficient infrastructure to ensure the program would be successful and sustainable. As principal investigator of that study, Aldridge and his project team led a two-year evaluation of Triple P implementation activities in Cabarrus County and Mecklenburg County.
His team’s assessments at the community, service provider and practitioner levels, and exploration of infrastructure, implementation, fidelity of delivery, turnover, and sustainment led them to make several recommendations to the state. The Duke Endowment again approached Aldridge to write the plan to articulate the support needed by regions and counties in order to successfully scale the project. After doing this, Aldridge and his team went on to support Wake County and then Madison and Buncombe Counties in their rollouts of the program.
Ultimately, Aldridge and his team―at what became known as The Impact Center at FPG―partnered with Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina and Triple P America to create statewide infrastructure to support the state of North Carolina for Triple P scale up. Through this, they provide direct implementation support for community-based Triple P scale-up and design and consultation support at state levels with administrators and funders.
Currently working with 10 North Carolina Triple P regions, the team has added online learning and simulation modules, communications, and media networking support to the direct support it provides to stakeholders and partners in North Carolina that have or are interested in implementing and scaling the Triple P system at a community level. With more than six years of data collected about the team’s provision of support, Aldridge and his colleagues are in the process of publishing papers to share their insights about what implementation support looks like in action, the experiences of support participants, and what the active ingredients of the support process may be.
Aldridge says that his commitment to prevention science stems from the desire to understand the conditions necessary to help children, youth, and families develop behaviors that are mentally, emotionally, behaviorally, and socially healthy. “Creating large-scale community and systems improvement through meaningful relationships and connections and using evidence-based practices and programs covers every single angle of who I am,” he says. “My journey focuses on translating implementation science into practices that are teachable, learnable, doable, and repeatable for managers, leaders, and community partners.”
Aldridge relishes his ability to give back to the state he calls home and is glad to be at Carolina, which he sees as a hotbed of implementation science activity. He especially appreciates that outreach and technical assistance have been part of FPG’s DNA throughout the Institute’s more than 50-year history. “Being able to work in an environment for translational activities and being part of this organization’s history and mission is an honor,” says Aldridge.