Broadening our Understanding of Grief

Gitterman head shot
Dr. Alex Gitterman, EdD

Professor Alex Gitterman recently co-authored two articles that expand understanding of grief and how social work can help people deal with it. “Grieving for the Loss of Place, its Familiarities and the Accompanying Associations and for the Loss of Precious Time and Associated Opportunities” appeared in Families and Society.

“The literature on grieving mostly focuses on loss of loved ones,” says Gitterman. “We suggest that it’s a much broader concept. Losing home, becoming uprooted through natural disasters, losing time to drug addiction — there is mourning for that too.” Published in Clinical Social Work Journal, “Ambiguous and Disenfranchised Grief: An Overlooked but Critical Need for Social Work Intervention,” examines grief when a loved one is alive but no longer present, such as with an Alzheimer’s patient.

Expanding Voter Participation to Improve Community Well-being

Tanya Smith
Tanya Rhodes Smith, MSW
Instructor in Residence and Director, Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work

“Communities that vote have higher rates of education, they report higher rates of health and well being, and they also have higher earnings,” says Tanya Rhodes Smith, instructor in-residence at the School of Social Work and director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work. With help from a grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the Humphreys Institute is providing support and resources to organizations that want to integrate voter registration, education, and outreach into their service delivery. It also is expanding its work with UConn students. “We are trying to build this really strong foundation and connection to social work practice that voting is an appropriate intervention, an ethical and effective intervention at all levels,” says Rhodes Smith.

Training Culturally Competent Practitioners to Work with Children with Disabilities

Cristina Wilson
Dr. Cristina Wilson, PhD
Associate Professor of Social Work and Research Director, UConn Health University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities

Latinos are the fastest growing population in the United States, yet they have the lowest autism diagnosis rate. One reason for the discrepancy, says Cristina Wilson, associate professor in the School of Social Work and research director at the UConn Health University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, may be lack of access to culturally competent specialists who have the ability to use Spanish-language screening tools. Wilson recently received, as co-PI with Mary Bruder of UConn Health, two five-year grants from the U.S. Department of Education to train students at the MSW and Ph.D. levels to focus on children with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, with a particular emphasis on vulnerable populations. “These grants will ensure that an interdisciplinary group of fully credentialed personnel will have the necessary skills and knowledge, including cultural competence, to be successful in serving high needs infants and young children and their families,” says Wilson.

Focus on Incarceration and Health

Hsiu-Ju Lin, PhD
Hsiu-Ju Lin, PhD
Associate Research Professor

The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and currently more than 2 million Americans have a history of incarceration. This crisis of mass incarceration has enduring health consequences. Prisoners reentering the society face a myriad of health challenges due to their incarceration - challenges which communities need to understand and address. Dr. Hsiu-Ju Lin is collaborating with Dr. Emily Wang and her team of researchers at the Yale School of Medicine Department, Section of General Internal Medicine, on two recently funded National Institute of Health funded projects: JUSTICE (Justice Involved Individuals Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology) and ICRO (Incarceration and Cancer-Related Outcomes. JUSTICE will follow 500 individuals leaving Connecticut Department of Corrections with cardiovascular risk factors and measure their perceived control over these risk factors.  ICRO will explore the relationship between incarceration and cancer incidence, mortality, and the quality of cancer care. Dr. Lin will provide her statistical expertise to analyze data generated from these two projects. Dr. Lin, a highly regarded data analyst for UConn and the State of Connecticut, has developed analytical procedures as well as a network of relationships with several state agencies that will help to facilitate the linkage of individual-level data on exposure to incarceration, medical care, and death records across multiple years.

Family Drug Treatment Courts

Margaret Lloyd
Dr. Margaret Lloyd, PhD
Assistant Professor

The US in the midst of a major opioid drug addiction epidemic. Many drug involved people wind up in the criminal justice system. When parents are both drug involved and involved in the criminal justice system, it can have devastating consequences for their young children.  One innovative model for addressing these consequences for children can be found in the Oklahoma Family Drug Treatment Court in Oklahoma City. This model seeks to strengthen families encountering addiction who wind up in the court system.  Margaret Lloyd is conducting groundbreaking research on this important innovation, looking at 3 interventions designed to enhance parent-child bonding in families where an adult parent has been identified by the courts as substance involved.  In this SAMHSA funded evaluation, Dr. Lloyd will compare families involved in the drug court to families with parental substance use disorders in the general child welfare system.

“This project is particularly important because we are focusing services on families with children under age 5", says Dr. Lloyd.  "Infants and young children affected by parental substance use disorders are the fastest growing group of children in foster care—a scary reality given that the developmental importance of parent-child attachment during this time frame.  The outcomes have looked very good in earlier evaluations of these courts.  With this study, we are hoping to continue building knowledge and improving their effectiveness and impact.”

Improving Outcomes for Young Adults in Foster Care

Nate Okpych
Dr. Nathanael Okpych, PhD
Assistant Professor

Nate Okpych, assistant professor of social work, studies older youth in foster care. As program director for the longitudinal CalYouth Study, he evaluates California state law AB 12, which in 2012 extended the age limit for foster care from 18 to 21. The study tracks 727 young people who were in foster care at age 17, interviewing them every two years through age 23. Analysis of the age 21 interviews indicates a wide range of benefits, including increased high school graduation and college enrollment rates and reduced homelessness.

In a second project, Okpych is collaborating with a researcher at Western Michigan University to study the effects of social network formation on college persistence among foster youth, who historically have low graduation rates. “We think the connections youth make on campus are going to affect persistence,” he explains. “Who do they turn to for emotional support? Who do they turn to for information and guidance? Who do they turn to for academic support?”

ORS Biennial Research & Scholarship Exhibition

Biennial Research & Scholarship Exhibition | March 30, 2020 | 12:00-4:00 pm | Hartford Public Library CCC

The UConn School of Social Work's Office of Research and Scholarship (ORS) is hosting its biennial research and scholarship exhibition at the Hartford Public Library's Center for Contemporary Culture. The 2020 exhibition topic is "Mental Health Disparities and Stigma — Social Work Research and Practice Implications" and will feature a postering session, followed by an introduction by DMHAS Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon and keynote presentations from Dr. Patrick Corrigan and Dr. Leopoldo J. Cabassa.

This event is free and open to the public. You are encouraged to invite students, colleagues, and partners from community-based organizations. We kindly ask that those who plan to attend register through Eventbrite.

Call for Posters

ORS invites faculty and students to submit poster presentations for the Biennial Research & Scholarship Exhibition.

Posters on all topics relevant to social work research and scholarship are welcome. We particularly welcome posters focused on this year’s exhibition topic: Mental Health Disparities and Stigma – Social Work Research and Practice Implications.  Posters may have been used or created for previous conferences in the past 2 years.The deadline for inclusion is March 1, 2020.

For questions, specifications, and production support, please contact Lindsay Wessell

UConn School of Social Work at SSWR 2020

24th Annual Conference | January 16-19, 2020 | Marriott Marquis, Washington DC
Topic: Reduce Racial and Economic Inequality

The following is a list of UConn School of Social Work faculty, PhD candidates/students, MSW students, BSW students, and researchers who are presenting at the 24th Annual Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Conference in January 2020.

This schedule is based on information on the conference website and excludes co-presenters who are not associated with UConn. Links to complete presentation details can be found by clicking on the presentation titles.

* denotes a presenting author

Thursday, January 16

8:00 AM      Michael Fendrich
Developing a Successful Career as an Associate Dean for Research 

3:15 PM       Maureen Dimock Clark*
Care or Coercion: A Critical Phenomenological Study of the Embodied Experience of Involuntary Civil Commitment in Early Adulthood

TBD              Rupal Parekh*
Exploring the Predictors of Well-Being and Advance Directives Among Elder Orphans: A Mixed Methods Study

TBD              Sarah Dodd*
Sexual Orientation and Sexual Assault Victimization Amongst College Students: A Logistical Regression Analysis 

Friday, January 17

8:00 AM      Crystal Hayes
Incarcerated Women's Perceptions of a Reproductive Life Planning Class: A Qualitative Study

9:45 AM      Nathanael Okpych & Jenna Powers*
Examining transition-age foster youths' particiaption in case-level decision-making: Predictors of youth roles in their independent living plan

11:15 AM      Nathanael Okpych*
The Role of Education and Training Vouchers (ETVs) and Campus-Support Programs (CPSs) on Postsecondary Education Persistence for Foster Youth

3:00 PM      Sarah Dodd
Exploring Exclusionary and Fragmented Healthcare Access for Undocumented Women Immigrant Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

3:45 PM      Megan Feely*
Barriers and Facilitators to Implementing a Community-Engaged Organizational Change Intervention to Improve the Foster Care System

5:15 PM      Jon Phillips*
Variation in the Factors Associated with Caseworker Burnout: The Effects of Tenure

8:15 PM      SPECIAL EVENT: SSWR Reception sponsored by the UConn School of Social Work

Saturday, January 18

8:00 AM      Brenda Kurz, Megan Feely, Melissa Ives, & Joshua Pierce
Methodological Issues and Lessons Learned with Administrative Data: A State Child Welfare Example

9:45 PM      Rupal Parekh (discussant)
Black [Family] Magic: Exploring Mechanisms for Thriving Under Conditions of Racial Inequality

4:00 PM      Michael Fendrich
Challenges and Solutions for Building Effective Faculty Research in Research-Emerging and Research-Intensive Universities

4:00 PM      Margaret Lloyd* & Jessica Becker
Family Drug Court Participation and Permanency in a Rural Setting: Outcomes from a Rigorous Quasi-Experiment

4:30 PM      Margaret Lloyd*
Child Welfare Outcomes for Young Children of Color with Substance Removals: An Intersectional Analysis of Longitudinal National Data

4:30 PM      Cristina Mogro-Wilson* & Alberto Cifuentes Jr.
Fatherhood Identity and Machismo in Latino Men with Problem Drinking Behaviors

Sunday, January 19

8:00 AM      Megan Feely
Beyond Inclusion: Addressing Power and Privilege in a Community-Engagement Intervention to Improve Foster Care Services

9:45 AM      Lorin Mordecai*
Adherence to Masculine Norms and Attitudes Toward Sexual Relationships Among College Students Involved in Sport

9:45 AM      Alberto Cifuentes Jr.
Social Work and Health Equity: A Critical Framework for Building a Culture of Health

10:15 AM    Jon Phillips*
Achieving Timely Reunification through Interprofessional Collaboration: A Mixed Methods Study

10:15 AM    Rebecca Thomas & Lorin Mordecai
Human Trafficking Efforts to Protect Connecticut's Vulnerable Children and Youth: Addressing Social Work's Grand Challenges

11:30 AM    Margaret Lloyd
Variation in States' Implementation of Capta's Substance-Exposed Infants Mandates: A Policy Diffusion Analysis

12:30 PM    Rupal Parekh*, Margaret Lloyd, & Caitlin Elsaesser
Do Older Adult Foster Parents Reduce Length of Stay for White Children and Children of Color with Substance Removals: A National Longitudinal Study

12:30 PM    Joshua Pierce*Megan Feely
Five Years and Counting: Implications of a Child Maltreatment Data Expungement Policy

Active Grants

ORS Winter 2020 Update

PhD Student Funding Opportunities

Competitive Funding to Support PhD Dissertation Research

Disability Determination Small Grant Program

NSF: SBE Dissertation Awards (Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences)

NIJ: Graduate Research Fellowship Program in Social & Behavioral Sciences

Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation Doctoral Dissertation Grant Program

Doris Duke Fellowships for the Promotion of Child Well Being

Social Work Researchers Embedded in the CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services

DMHAS Research Division Staff

Eleni Rodis MS
Eleni Rodis, MS - Acting Director

Research Division

The Research Division of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS) is a nationally recognized research leader among state mental health and substance abuse agencies. The members of the DMHAS Research Division staff are employees of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, with grant and contract funds from the National Institute on Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as well as the State of Connecticut.

The Research Division conducts program evaluations and cost effectiveness studies and investigates many issues of policy relevance in the mental health and addictions fields, including supportive housing, mental health and addictions among criminal justice-involved populations, trauma interventions, and implementation of evidence-based practices. Research conducted in Connecticut informs decision-makers about the effectiveness of treatment and the impact of policies on persons with behavioral health disorders.



School of Social Work & CT Department of Social Services Partnership

The UConn School of Social Work and the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) have worked collaboratively for over twenty five years. DSS has an Office of Organizational and Skill Development (OSD) that provides training and organizational development services to DSS and its staff. The OSD staff and the services are part of a formal partnership between the school and DSS. This arrangement insures effectiveness, efficiency, and shared resources that benefit the partners, clients and The State of Connecticut.

OSD is staffed by professionals from the School of Social Work who provide a variety of training, media and organizational development activities to the agency’s nearly 2,000 employees. Operating under a contractual agreement for more than 30 years, the partnership has changed over time to meet DSS’ developing needs.

Education and training for DSS staff and its partners is focused on programs, leadership and professional growth and development. DSS staff are provided regular training opportunities in a range of program areas such as Medicaid, child care, child support, elderly services, TANF, foodstamps and case management. In addition civil rights, supervisory, managerial and systems training are part of an employee’s growth and development plan. A media production center develops educational materials for training projects, group presentations, and other needs through newsletters, videotapes, and other communications tools. Organizational development activities are initiated and managed by the OSD staff to support service effectiveness and efficient processes. Cultural responsiveness and social justice are fundamental part of training and organizational design services. Graduate students from the School of Social Work are placed as interns in DSS departments.


More information about OSD at The Office of Organizational and Skill Development website.


Darleen Klase, Director
(860) 424-5587