Adverse Consequences of Cyberbanging

Caitlin Elsaesser
Dr. Caitlin Elsaesser
Assistant Professor

Researchers on adolescence are learning that the online world may potentially have adverse consequences for youth. Elsaesser and her colleagues, who study youth in urban areas characterized by high rates of violence, have noted that when online interactions (such as  Facebook postings) turn aggressive, they can escalate to physical violence.   These “aggressive online interactions” – also called “cyberbanging” – are a rapidly growing problem that has rarely been studied.   Thanks to funding from UConn’s Research Excellence Program in 2017, Dr. Elsaesser and her team are breaking new ground by developing a new measure of this phenomenon.  Her team is learning about factors that both fuel and diffuse aggressive interactions with the aim of developing interventions to prevent them.

“Social media has become a near universal communication tool for youth, with both positive and negative consequences, says Dr. Elsaesser. "We see youth of all backgrounds engaging in aggression online, but we know very little about what aggression online looks like among youth living in urban areas with high rates of violence and firearm access, where a fight on Facebook may lead to offline violence with potentially deadly consequences. In this project, we have partnered with community agencies in Hartford, notably Compass Youth Collaborative, to gain a clearer picture of what happens when youth fight online, how it might lead to violence offline, and what youth are already doing to stop violence.”

Improving Health Outcomes in Cambodian Refugees

Megan Berthold
Dr. Megan Berthold
Associate Professor

The nation of Cambodia is experiencing a devastating diabetes epidemic.  Unfortunately, the country is faced with a shortage of trained healthcare workers needed to address this crisis.  Building on her strong commitment to improving the health and well-being of Cambodian refugees in this country, Megan Berthold has teamed up with Julie Wagner (UConn Health) and Thomas Buckley (UConn Pharmacy), Khmer Health Advocates, and the Cambodian Diabetes Association (Siem Reap Branch) in Cambodia to conduct research on a novel intervention that may potentially help solve this problem.  With support from UConn Health’s 2017 Research Excellence Program, they are enlisting US-based Cambodian Health Workers (CHWs) to remotely train Cambodian-based village Health Workers on an evidenced-based self-management intervention to address diabetes risk.  They are looking at the challenges involved in implementing this intervention as well as whether this intervention actually improves outcomes in patients in Cambodia.

Dr. Berthold remarked, “We are building capacity among village health workers to deliver a culturally relevant diabetes curriculum in Khmer called Eat, Walk, Sleep that we developed.  Our high-tech (telehealth), human-touch (village health workers/CHWs), cross-country peer-learning approach to diabetes is innovative and directly aligns with World Health Organization approaches to global chronic disease.”

Families of Children At-Risk for Maltreatment

Brenda Kurz
Dr. Brenda Kurz
Associate Professor

The Performance Improvement Center (PIC), led by Dr. Brenda Kurz, associate professor of social work, works closely with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF). The PIC team provides data-driven feedback to local agencies on the impact of screening, placement decisions, and resources provided to families of children at risk for maltreatment.  This is an innovative model for research that can be directly used by agencies and “on the ground” providers.  Dr. Kurz leads a team of skilled data analysts and meets with DCF providers on a regular basis to provide them with feedback on how well their model is working.

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
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
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?”

Active Grants

Current Research Projects

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

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.

Eleni Rodis MS
Acting Director

(860) 418- 6663


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