Research from SSW Faculty at Centers, Institutes, & External Partnerships
Exploring International Partnerships
Rebecca Thomas, associate professor of policy practice and director of the Center for International Social Work Studies, coordinates a joint academic program exchange between UConn and Yerevan State University in Armenia. For the past five years, Thomas has taken SSW students to Armenia to conduct research on issues related to international development, poverty, and migration, as well as the role social work can play in helping refugees achieve economic and social security. “We’ve been focusing on Syrian refugees of Armenian descent who have been moving back to Armenia as a result of the war in Syria,” says Thomas. She explores the reverse migration in her article “Returning Home: the Experiences of Resettlement for Syrian-Armenian Refugees into Armenia” in the Journal of International Migration and Integration.
Among other projects, Thomas also recently co-authored with Professor Emeritus and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Lynne M. Healy “International Social Work: Professional Action in an Interdependent World,” (3rd Edition), forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
Expanding Voter Participation to Improve Community Well-being
“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
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.
Evaluating Family Drug Treatment Courts
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.”
Analyzing Pathways to Overdose — and Through Addiction
Associate Research Professor Hsiu-Ju Lin and Dr. William Becker at Yale are assessing the role of FDA-regulated substances in fatal and nonfatal overdoses. “Little is known about particular prescribed medications and the pathways of these medications to abuse by patients or diversion to other users,” Lin says. Linking datasets from various state agencies is allowing the team to discover how prescribing practices are associated with overdoses and how to prevent them.
Lin is working on multiple federally-funded projects related to the opioid crisis. She also is co-investigator with Yale’s Dr. Emily Wang on a National Institute of Drug Abuse-funded study of the effectiveness of the Transitions Clinic Network, a program that matches people with opioid use disorder who are released from incarceration with peer health care workers who themselves were formerly incarcerated.
Research & Scholarship from SSW Faculty
Addressing Problem Drinking Among Young Adults
Supported by $725,000 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant, Michael Fendrich, professor and associate dean for research, has teamed up with Crystal Park, professor of psychology, and Beth Russell, associate professor of human development and family sciences, to develop interventions to address escalating drinking patterns among young adults. Most alcohol prevention-interventions with young adults have focused on peer influences. Fendrich says he and his colleagues are taking their research in a new direction: “We’re thinking a lot of problematic drinking may be a function more of how people handle stress.” During the three-year study conducted at UConn, they aim to develop and evaluate skills people can use to cope with distressing emotions without relying on alcohol. “We’re excited about a promising new approach to an issue that has been fairly intractable,” says Fendrich
Exploring Unconscious Racism Through Film
In a new paper entitled “Psychodynamic Analysis of Racialized Interactions: The Get Out Case Study,” Dr. Ann Marie-Garran and co-author Dr. Brian Rasmussen use the Academy Award-nominated film Get Out as a case study to explore themes related to race relations and the unconscious dynamics of racism that can impact therapeutic services.
The authors use Get Out’s position as a creative piece to reveal aspects of human experience, and race relations in particular, that are difficult to capture through contemporary scientific methods and standards of evidence. While most case studies used in clinical reports are private, offering only the clinician’s report, analyzing film allows for the application of psychoanalytic concepts to recurrent themes in the film that, the authors posit, are the result of the creators’ imagination and lived experiences intermingling.
Get Out conveys perceptions, anxieties, and fears between the races, with overtures that hold relevance for clinical practice. Moving beyond the notion of cultural competency, the authors discuss race relations through concepts of consciousness, double-consciousness, projection, and more. The authors consider these ideas with respect to mixed racial therapeutic dyads, clinical supervision, and white dominated agencies, noting that it is of utmost important for white clinicians to fully grasp the intensity of these dynamics in order to confront institutional bias and analyze their work for vestiges of white supremacy and internalized racial superiority to minimize their occurrence.
Examining The Role of Macro-Level Factors in Child Neglect
Traditional child maltreatment prevention strategies have focused on the prevention of physical and sexual abuse but have been less effective at preventing child neglect – the most common type of child maltreatment reported to Child Protective Service agencies in the US. In a new paper, “Heed Neglect, Disrupt Child Maltreatment: A Call to Action for Researchers” published in the International Journal on Child Maltreatment: Research, Policy and Practice, Dr. Megan Feely and co-authors propose expanding the focus of research on neglect from individual and family-level factors to include macro-level factors, as they play an underexplored role in family circumstances and influence parents’ ability to provide safe environments for children.
The authors speak to the challenges in reducing neglect, which appears to be the result of complex and unidentified interactions that existing health and social service systems do not effectively prevent, perhaps in part because society has traditionally viewed neglect as a problem within the family unit. They argue that research has reinforced this by focusing on micro-level interventions. However, emerging research in the area of child neglect supports the notion that policy changes that effect a family’s macroenvironment may be key in preventing neglect. The authors note that the field needs more research, but they argue that the consideration of macro-level factors should be concurrent with strengthening families and communities.
Broadening our Understanding of Grief
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.
Improving Outcomes for Young Adults in Foster Care
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?”
More on Current Research at the School of Social Work
Want to know more about current research activities and funding at the UConn School of Social Work? The Office of Research and Scholarship (ORS) provides regular updates below.
The ORS Alert is a monthly digest that highlights recent grant awards and publications from UConn School of Social Work faculty and students. The Alert also provides information on funding, professional development opportunities, and upcoming events relevant to research and scholarship in the field of Social Work. Below are archived Alerts in chronological order.