Stephen A. Small

Professor Emeritus
Human Development and Family Studies

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

–Yogi Berra

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.

Prof. Small and his research team are examining the role of wisdom in guiding personal and professional practice. In the Parenting Wisdom Study, Prof. Small and graduate student Dave Metler 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 their initial study of Wisdom in Professional Practice, Prof. Small and graduate student Dayana Kupisk are investigating how youth workers make wise decisions and effectively problem solve when dealing with challenging and uncertain matters in their work with youth.

Prof. Small’s 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.


Prof. Small’s 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.


  • Small, S.A. & Huser, M. (in press). Principles for improving family programs: An evidence-informed approach.To appear in M. Walcheski and J. Rienke (Eds.), Family Life Education: The Practice of Family Science (3rd ed.). Minneapolis: National Council on Family Relations.
  • Small, S.A. & Kupisk, D. (in press). Wisdom in practice. To appear in M. Walcheski and J. Rienke (Eds.), Family Life Education: The Practice of Family Science (3rd ed.). Minneapolis: National Council on Family Relations.
  • Small, S.A. & Huser, M. (2012). Family-based prevention programs. In R. J. R. Levesque (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence, (pp. 967-976). New York: Springer.
  • Cooney, S.M., Kratochwill, T. & Small, S.A. (2010). Youth policy and politics in the United States: Toward an increased focus on prevention. In B. Doll, W. Pfohl, & J. Yoon, (Eds.), Handbook of Youth Prevention Science, (pp. 445-460).  New York: Routledge.
  • Small, S.A., Cooney, S. & O’Connor, C. (2009).  Evidence-based program improvement: Using principles of effectiveness to enhance the quality and impact of family-based prevention programs. Family Relations, 58, 1-13.
  • Cooney, S.M., Small, S.A. & O’Connor, C. (2008). Girls in the juvenile justice system: Toward effective gender-responsive programming. What Works, Wisconsin Research to Practice Series, 7. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Extension. Available at
  • O’Connor, C., Small, S.A. & Cooney, S.M. (2007). Culturally appropriate prevention programming: What do we know about evidence-based programs for culturally and ethnically diverse youth and their families? What Works, Wisconsin Research to Practice Series, 1. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension. Available at
  • Small, S., Tiwari, G., & Huser, M. (2006). The cultural education of academic evaluators: Lessons from a university-Hmong community partnership. American Journal of Community Psychology, 37, 357-364.
  • Small, S. & Covalt, B. (2006).  Adolescence and the family: Myths and realities. In F. Villarruel & T. Luster (Eds.), The Crisis in Mental Health: Critical Issues and Effective Programs, Vol. 2:  Issues in Adolescence, (pp. 1-25). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Small, S. & Uttal, L. (2005). Action-oriented research: Strategies for engaged scholarship. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 67, 936-948.