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Faculty & Staff

Michael MacKenzie

Chancellor's Scholar for Child Well-Being and Associate Professor, Social Work and Pediatrics

B.BSc., M.Sc., University of Western Ontario and MSW, MA, Ph.D., University of Michigan

Dr. MacKenzie’s research interests include dynamic processes in early development, social and biological transactions in developmental psychopathology, the etiology and outcomes of harsh parenting and maltreatment, foster care placement trajectories and child welfare policy.


Professor MacKenzie first became interested in developmental pathways involving abuse and neglect through his extensive work with children in his family’s residential group homes in Canada. This work with children whose early childhood experiences had profoundly shaped the course of their lives sparked his passion for improving the lives of maltreated children and those growing up in out-of-home care through early relationship-based intervention strategies and alternative models of care when maintaining families is not possible. These experiences also focused his efforts on better understanding the dynamic connections between the biological and social worlds of the developing child. Dr. MacKenzie is one of a very small number of Social Work researchers with advanced graduate training in molecular genetics and physiology, allowing him to incorporate work on the stress hormone system and gene expression into his transdisciplinary studies of early social deprivation and harsh parenting. Dr. MacKenzie’s focus is on the accumulation of stress and risk in early parenting and the impact on caregiver perceptions and subsequent parenting behavior, including the etiology of harsh parenting and the pathways of children into and through the child welfare system.

Dr. MacKenzie was Principal Investigator on a UNICEF funded project in Jordan that represented one of the first formal implementations of foster care and juvenile diversion as alternatives to institutionalization in the region. Dr. MacKenzie was also recently honored as a W.T. Grant Foundation Faculty Scholar for 2014-2019 to support a project examining the biological and social underpinnings of serial placement instability in the foster care system. In 2017, Dr. MacKenzie's article on bidirectional effects between parent and child aggression across the first decade of life was recognized with the Excellence in Research Award from the Society for Social Work and Research as the publication "that meets the highest scientific standards and advances social work knowledge." Over the past year, Dr. MacKenzie, along with colleague Dr. Emily Bosk, also co-founded, a collection of leading child well-being scholars from across the country in order to address recent child immigration enforcement changes that run counter to decades of child development research. These efforts culminated in their recent widely-shared article in the New England Journal of Medicine and in a public declaration to inform immigration policy debates with research-informed best practices.

As part of the Rutgers-New Brunswick Strategic Plan, the Chancellor's Excellence Fund was created and one initiative is the designation of a select group of faculty members as “Chancellor’s Scholars,” and MacKenzie was recently named to this honor.

Selected Recent Publications: 

MacKenzie, M.J., Bosk, E.A., Zeanah, C.H. (2017). Separating families at the border–Consequences for children’s health and well-being. New England Journal of Medicine, 376, 2314-2315.

MacKenzie, M.J., Nicklas, E., Brooks-Gun, J., & Waldfogel, J. (2015). Spanking and child externalizing behavior across the first 9 years-of-life: Evidence for transactional processes involving cumulative risk. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44,658-669. DOI: 10.1007/s10964-014-0114-y.

MacKenzie, M.J., Nicklas, E., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Waldfogel J. (2014). The effects of repeated exposure to harsh parenting on child externalizing behavior across the first decade of life: A moderating role for cumulative risk. Child Abuse & Neglect, 38, 1895-1901.

MacKenzie, M.J., Gearing, R.E., Schwalbe, C.S., Ibrahim, R.W., Brewer, K.B., Al-Sharaihah, R. (2014). Child mental health in Jordanian orphanages: Effect of placement change on behavior and caregiving. BMC: Pediatrics, 14,1173. DOI: 10.1186/s12887-014-0316-1.

MacKenzie, M.J., Nicklas, E., Waldfogel, J., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2013). Spanking and child development across the first decade of life. Pediatrics.DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-1227.

MacKenzie, M.J., Brewer, K.B., Schwalbe, C.S.J., Gearing, R.E., Ibrahim, R.W., Batayneh, J., Darwish, D.M., Al-Kharabsheh, J., & Al-Zu’bi, M.H. (2012). Foster care as a viable alternative to institutional care in the Middle East: Community acceptance and stigma across type of placement in Jordan. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 33(6),517-521.

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