Stephen A. SmallProfessor Emerit

My work spans both research and its practical application. For most of my career I have been working with communities across Wisconsin and the nation to help them understand and address the concerns, aspirations, and positive and problematic behaviors of children, youth, and their families. I am especially interested in how to conduct research that is relevant and how to make relevant the research that we conduct. I value working collaboratively with students, professionals, and leaders outside the university to enhance the quality of practice and policy and contribute to the development, health, and well-being of individuals and families. My current work explores the concept of practical wisdom and how people develop and use wisdom to address important, challenging, and uncertain matters in day-to-day life and professional practice.


My research team and I are examining the role of wisdom in guiding personal and professional practice. In the Parenting Wisdom Study, graduate student Dave Metler and I are studying how parents make thoughtful practical, principled (i.e., wise) decisions and judgments when faced with important, difficult, and “messy” problems in the course of parenting. In our initial study of Wisdom in Professional Practice, graduate student Dayana Kupisk and I are investigating how youth workers make wise decisions and effectively problem solve when dealing with challenging and uncertain matters in their work with youth.

My What Works project focuses on distilling the latest scientific knowledge on effective policies, practices, and programs, including “evidence-based programs,” for youth and their families, schools, and communities. In addition to disseminating this information to practitioners and policymakers, the What Works staff provide technical assistance on program design, improvement, and evaluation.


My most recent engagement projects include Parenthetical and Wisconsin CARES. Parenthetical is a web-based education and support program for parents designed to improve the quality of parenting, reduce parental stress, and enhance positive child outcomes. The Wisconsin CARES project assists Wisconsin counties in making evidence-informed decisions about preventing child maltreatment and enhancing child well-being. Funded by a grant from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, Wisconsin CARES is a collaboration between county Cooperative Extension Family Living Educators, UW–Madison specialists, and local professionals and community leaders.

Portrait of Stephen Small.


  • Human Development & Family Studies