Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy

Children, Youth and Families Concentration

Bridgit Burns

Bridgit Burns

Bridgit Elizabeth Burns is a doctoral student in Children, Youth, and Families concentration. She is interested in policy that supports the well-being of vulnerable families, with a particular focus on children who have experienced trauma as well as families involved in the child welfare system. Previously, she worked as a research associate at the Center for Healthcare Research in Pediatrics at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, and as a project manager at Ibis Reproductive Health. Burns holds a Master of Public Health in reproductive and family health from Columbia University, and a Bachelor of Science in human biology, health, and society from Cornell University
Jessica Chaikof

Jessica Chaikof

Jessica Chaikof is a doctoral student in the Children, Youth, and Families concentration. Her research interests center in disability policy, in particular chronic illness, disability, and accessibility in higher education. Chaikof earned her MA in Sociology Research & Practice from American University and her BA in sociology along with a minor in chemistry from Wheaton College (MA). Currently, she is a co-investigator on a study examining the everyday impact of endometriosis on college students. In addition, Chaikof has been working closely with the Immigration Lab at American University in looking at how immigration and disability status intersect and play a role in accessing critical resources such as education, healthcare, and employment. Her experiences of living with a disability not only motivate her research but also are a strength that shapes and guides it.

Anna Clements, PhD student

Anna Clements

Anna Clements is a doctoral candidate interested in exploring institutional causes of the school to prison pipeline for people of color with mental or cognitive disabilities. During her undergraduate studies, she served on University of Michigan’s Council for Disability Concerns, and she has presented on disability rights in the US and abroad. Before coming to Heller, Anna completed a master’s degree in international human rights law at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway, Ireland, interned at the Centre for Disability Studies in Hyderabad, India, and worked in the US with nonprofits focusing on racial justice, immigrant rights, and disability services.

Sarah Jerome

Sarah Jerome

Sarah J. Jerome is a doctoral student in the Children, Youth, and Families concentration. Jerome, a public health researcher and training and technical assistance (TTA) specialist at Education Development Center, is dedicated to eliminating health disparities and promoting health equity for disenfranchised, marginalized, and underserved communities through education, capacity building, and advocacy. She is a member of the steering committee for the Arc of Massachusetts and a member of the board of directors of the Haitian Health Institute. Her research interests include exploring intersections of race, disabilities, and systems navigation and their impact on individual wellness. She aims to apply this knowledge to inform advocacy efforts and relevant policy and practice. Jerome holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from Boston University, a certificate in Disability & Health Policy from Suffolk University, and a BS in biology from Oglethorpe University. In 2019, she completed the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Fellowship program.
Jenny LaFleur, PhD candidate

Jennifer LaFleur

Jenny is a PhD candidate in the Children,Youth and Families concentration. Jenny received a BA from Carleton College and an EdM from Harvard University. Her research seeks to apply Critical Race Theory, critical geography, and practice theory to analyses of social problems and social policy. Her work considers how built and social space are constitutive of a raced and classed social structure, and how these spaces facilitate the reproduction or disruption of inequality. Additionally, she is interested in how current social policy’s market logics interface with social structures to shape outcomes for historically and contemporarily minoritized individuals. Her recent research examines how: privatization impacts educational opportunity; residential segregation influences children’s exposure to disease and chronic health conditions; the parents of Black and Latinx students view inter-district school desegregation programs; and the impact of neighborhood contexts and resources on outcomes for public school students with disabilities.

Read more about Jenny LaFleur's research here. 

Ian Moura

Ian Moura

Ian Moura is a doctoral student in the Children, Youth, and Families concentration. His research interests include services and outcomes for autistic adults, disability policy, and algorithmic bias. Since 2018, he has been working to gather better data on autism employment programs. Moura is an intern with the Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE). He has also worked with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), where he recently led a research team in collecting and analyzing crisis standards of care from different states. He received his BA in psychology from Dominican University of California.
Shaakira Parker, PhD student

Shaakira Parker

Shaakira Parker is a doctoral student in the Children, Youth, and Families concentration. Her interest areas include early childhood policy, in particular the role of public policy in preventing and mitigating early childhood adversities for Black and low-income children, as well as the interconnection between family and neighborhood context, racial inequities, and healthy child development. Prior to pursuing her doctorate degree, Shaakira worked as an associate program officer in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, where she worked on a study focused on improving the child and adolescent healthcare system. Before that, she worked as a policy associate in the Child Health Advocacy Institute and the Early Childhood Innovation Network at Children's National Hospital, where she focused on policy, advocacy, and systems change to improve the public behavioral health system for children and families in the District of Columbia. Shaakira holds a Master of Public Health degree from the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Science degree in child development from Vanderbilt University. 

Roberto Salva

Roberto Salva

Roberto S. Salva is a doctoral candidate and the current Sol Chick and Rosalind B. Chaikin Endowed Fellow in child and family policy. He holds an MPA from the National University of Singapore and a BS in Statistics from the University of the Philippines. Before coming to Heller, he led the EU-funded baseline study on child participation in the ASEAN and the ASEAN Member States; drafted guidelines on child participation for the deliberation of the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Women and Children; peer reviewed the Philippine study on violence against children, and consulted for various nonprofit organizations including The Asia Foundation, Save the Children and Consuelo Zobel Alger Foundation. Before that, he led a nonprofit organization for the deaf in the Philippines for six years and worked with urban poor communities through research and community organizing.

Kaitlin Stober

Kaitlin Stober is a PhD student in the Children, Youth, and Families concentration. She is interested in research that centers the voices, experiences, and perspectives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, particularly as it relates to inclusion in education and the community. Kaitlin serves as a Senior Research Specialist at the University of Illinois Chicago’s Institute on Disability and Human Development. There, she co-led the development of UIC’s Co-Op program, a fully inclusive and credit-bearing college program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She holds a MS in Disability Studies from Trinity College Dublin, and a BA in Sociology and Art from Elon University.

Armando Vizcardo headshot

Armando Vizcardo, MPP'23

Armando Vizcardo is a doctoral student in the Children, Youth, and Families concentration. Armando received a Master’s in Public Policy from the Heller School at Brandeis University and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from UMass Boston. His research focuses on immigrants’ access to social safety net programs, assessing social inequities and its impact on the racial wealth gap, and examining how traditional welfare policies can work tangent with asset-building interventions. Prior to his candidacy, Armando worked at Abt Associates evaluating a range of social and public programs focused on housing, education, workforce development, and financial capability. 

Abby Walters, Research Associate

Abigail Walters

Abigail N. Walters is a doctoral student in the Children, Youth and Families concentration. She is also a research associate at the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Walters’ work focuses on equity, family job quality, and immigrants’ access to social safety net programs. In addition, she performs policy equity assessments on social safety net programs. Walters holds a master degree in public policy and a bachelor's degree in economics and political science from Simmons University.