Alumni HDFS

Oregon State HDFS alumna is helping the nation’s most vulnerable children

Kylee Probert, HDFS PhD ’22, doesn’t like America’s childcare system, so she’s doing something about it.

Kylee Probert on OSU's campus

By Hanna Knowles

Kylee Probert, HDFS PhD ’22, doesn’t like America’s childcare system, so she’s doing something about it. 

Kylee graduated in June and is putting her HDFS PhD degree to use in Washington, D.C., addressing the nation’s childcare crisis through a selective federal policy fellowship.  

A penchant for policy

Kylee says her interest in supporting families, and those who care for vulnerable children, motivated her to pursue a human development and family studies doctoral degree. The more she dug in, the more she realized a lot of the challenges faced by caregivers and families are related to the policies and systems they interact with. 

“I was faced with the frustration of how we can work within the systems we’re given to support and meet the needs of families, while also managing related constraints and restraints.” 

This frustration led her to apply for the SRCD/AAS Executive Branch Federal Policy Fellowship from the Society for Research in Child Development and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

She’s now working in the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation to help inform the development, implementation and advancement of federal policy programs such as Head Start, childcare and foster care. 

“Policy is something I never thought I would be in, but it’s incredibly useful, valuable and important,” Kylee says.  

This fellowship is the perfect sweet spot between research and policy. I’m looking forward to learning more about how policy decisions are made, including how they are informed by research and science.” 

Why Kylee pursued an HDFS PhD program 

Kylee’s personal experience with the foster care system also drew her to an HDFS PhD program. 

“My parents were foster parents, and I had worked in child welfare,” she says. “When I was applying to graduate programs, I knew I wanted to find a better way to support those who care for vulnerable children.” 

Kylee’s dissertation connected the challenges in the child welfare system with challenges in the world of early childhood education – which, she says, are more similar than you’d expect, and create barriers to providing high-quality childcare and equitable access.  

The first part of Kylee’s dissertation focused on the retention of foster parents and how to better support their needs by fostering their sense of self-efficacy and ability to navigate the child welfare system. She conducted the work under mentorship from Associate Professor Brianne Kothari.

She also investigated similar retention issues in early childhood education with Associate Professor Bridget Hatfield. Home-based childcare educators who receive subsidies for providing care to low-income families also have to navigate federal and state-level system requirements, she says.  

“The fellowship is really applicable to what I’ve been working on at Oregon State,” she says. “I can take what I know about what’s going on in Oregon, and my expertise in developmental science and family science, and apply it to what’s going on at the federal level. 

“One thing I really appreciate about HDFS as a field, and the types of careers it can lead to. It really requires you to think outside the box in terms of solving real-world problems that are faced by children and families today.”

Learn how to pursue your PhD in Human Development and Family Studies from Oregon State.