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School faculty ‘laser focused’ on child maltreatment prevention

Historically, UNC School of Social Work’s focus on child maltreatment prevention has extended to every corner of the School’s research, teaching and community engagement efforts.

At the national level, faculty are among the country’s top scholars working to identify interventions that enhance the safety, stability and well-being of abused and neglected children. In North Carolina, public agencies depend on the wealth of expertise within the School to evaluate child welfare programs, services and processes to ensure they are working effectively and to identify inefficiencies or stumbling blocks that might interrupt a child’s transition into a permanent home.

Moreover, faculty and staff within the Jordan Institute’s Family and Children’s Resource Program provide hundreds of hours of training to North Carolina’s child welfare workers and supervisors every year, including courses focused on trauma. These same School experts also facilitate “town hall” discussions with community organizations and clients and in partnership with the state to share best practices in child welfare and foster care.

All of these efforts are critical to community well-being and perhaps more so as schools, health care providers, and others continue to assess the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on families and children. Thus far, research is limited, and findings have been mixed on whether lengthy school closures and the disruption of routines led to an increase in child abuse cases over the last few years.

However, what is clear is that the overall problem of child maltreatment is complex, lacks any single solution and solid scientific evidence is a must to inform direct practice and public policy, said Paul Lanier, associate director of the Jordan Institute for Families and a Wallace Kuralt Early Career Distinguished Scholar.

“COVID has highlighted the flaws in so many of the under-funded and under-researched areas we study as social workers, and child maltreatment surveillance and prevention is certainly on this list,” Lanier said. “Continuing to fund and elevate rigorous research on child maltreatment prevention is critical. Specifically, research that involves direct partnerships between researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and families is vital to understanding the experiences of families and how social workers can best support them.”

Lanier is among the experts in child and family welfare that the School will be highlighting over the next few weeks in recognition of April’s National Child Abuse Prevention Month and May’s Foster Care Awareness Month. (Read more about our featured faculty below.) The School’s inaugural Social Work Legacy Speakers Series, which launches on April 25, aims to further the discussion on the systems and approaches that advance equity and enable families to thrive, said Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson.

The Legacy Speakers Series will bring individuals committed to strengthening the lives of children and families to Chapel Hill to address the challenges and gaps in our current service systems to ensure that our community’s most vulnerable are not harmed by programs or efforts intended to buffer them from the effects of traumatic experiences. The goal: to create an enduring legacy of security and stability for our children and families.

“We’re spending this month laser-focused on what it means to ‘use’ research, define impact, and integrate teaching, research, and practice in service to the child welfare community,” she added.

Social Work Legacy Speaker Series

Learn more about the Legacy Speakers Series, including how to register to attend in person or to participate virtually.

Social Work Legacy Speaker Series program booklet

UNC School of Social Work Featured Faculty

David Ansong, Ph.D.David Ansong, Associate Professor, Wallace Kuralt Early Career Distinguished Scholar
Ansong’s research focuses on factors that promote economic security and the well-being of children and youth. He is involved in international research on the impacts of economic security interventions on child and youth development. His domestic research focuses on testing innovative interventions to strengthen the financial capability of relatives who provide permanent care for children in foster care. Ansong is the Governor’s appointee on the Permanency Innovations Initiative Oversight Committee, a non-standing committee of the North Carolina General Assembly. He is also a faculty director for the Global Assets Building program at the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St Louis. Read more about Ansong’s research projects.
Kanisha-BrevardKanisha Brevard, Research Associate
Brevard works on projects focused on maltreatment prevention, kinship care, and the evaluation of evidenced-based interventions for children and youth in foster care. For more than 10 years, she has provided technical support on several child welfare projects, including managing large administrative data, analyzing qualitative and quantitative data, developing surveys, writing evaluation reports, and presenting findings at national conferences. Her research interests include efforts to eliminate racial disproportionality and improve outcomes for children and families of color in the child welfare system. Read more about Brevard’s research projects.
Todd Jensen, Ph.D.Todd Jensen, Family Research and Engagement Specialist with the Jordan Institute for Families, Research Assistant Professor
Jensen’s scholarship focuses on promoting family well-being in diverse contexts; strengthening family-serving systems; and prioritizing equity in family research, practice, and policy. His work attends to families experiencing relationship transitions and shifts in parental structure, family maltreatment prevention among military-connected families, promoting the use of evidence in family-serving systems, advocating for inclusive definitions of family, and centering equity in the theory and methods used to study and support families. He is co-founder and co-chair of the Diverse Family Structures Focus Group of the National Council on Family Relations, which has amassed over 120 scholars across the country and globe who are interested in aligning research and intervention programs with the complex and rich realities of family relationships. Read more about Jensen’s research projects.
Paul LanierPaul Lanier, Associate Director of the Jordan Institute for Families, Wallace Kuralt Early Career Distinguished Scholar
Lanier’s research focuses on developing, evaluating, and scaling-up evidence-based prevention programs in child welfare, mental health, and early childhood systems. He has conducted studies with parenting support models such as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), the Triple P Positive Parenting Program, Circle of Parents, and several maternal and child health home visiting models. In addition to his focus on intervention research, he also uses linked, multi-sector administrative data for policy analysis to improve child well-being. He is also a board member of the North Carolina Infant Mental Health Association. In addition to his roles with the School of Social Work, Lanier also serves as a research fellow at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. Read more about Lanier’s research projects.
Amy LevineAmy Levine, Clinical Assistant Professor
Levine teaches practice courses in the MSW curriculum, serves in the field education program and is the coordinator and advisor for MSW students in the North Carolina Child Welfare Education Collaborative. She also serves as a faculty advisor for the UNC Child Maltreatment Research and Practice Network. A licensed clinical social worker, Levine has a practice background in both public and private child welfare services, as well as mental health treatment with children, adolescents, and families. She has worked as a psychotherapist and clinical supervisor, frequently working with individuals and families impacted by child maltreatment and the child welfare system. Levine’s practice and research interests include trauma-informed models of care, child and adolescent mental health, the intersection of child welfare and behavioral health services, and professional resilience and well-being. Read more about Levine’s research projects.
Allison Metz, Ph.D.Allison Metz, Professor of the Practice, Director of Implementation Practice
Metz is a developmental psychologist with expertise in child development and family systems and a commitment to improving child and family outcomes and advancing equity. She specializes in the implementation of evidence to achieve social impact for children and families in a range of human service and education areas, with an emphasis on child welfare and early childhood service contexts. Metz’s research interests include the roles of trust, power and relationships in evidence use, competencies for supporting implementation, and co-creation strategies to support sustainable change. She is particularly interested in the development of a workforce for supporting implementation in public service systems. Metz is co-chair of the Institute on Implementation Practice and founding director of the Collaborative for Implementation Practice at UNC School of Social Work, a Faculty Fellow at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and an adjunct professor at the School of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin. Read more about Metz’s research projects.
Laura PhippsLaura Phipps, Program Coordinator, Family and Children’s Resource Program
Phipps is a social worker who specializes in macro focused work aimed at improving outcomes for child welfare and human service organizations. She started her career as a clinical social worker serving children and families in community mental health programs. Her passion and talent for serving the community in a larger way led to many projects aimed at capacity building for mental health providers and educators, including new teacher training and behavior coaching programs in Washington and California. In North Carolina, she continued her focus on public education and mental health at the district and state levels, implementing and scaling-up new practices with fidelity. At the Family and Children’s Resource Program, she has led a wide variety of projects aimed at supporting the child welfare and human services workforce, using her skills to develop curricula, conduct trainings, facilitate town hall events, and coordinate community-wide collective impact initiatives. Her areas of expertise include trauma-informed practice, facilitation and coaching, continuous quality improvement, and outcomes-focused practice. Read more about Phipps’ research projects.
Emily Putnam-HornsteinEmily Putnam-Hornstein, John A. Tate Distinguished Professor for Children in Need, Director of the Family and Children’s Resource Program
Putnam-Hornstein’s research focuses on the application of epidemiological methods to improve the surveillance of non-fatal and fatal child abuse and neglect. Her analysis of large-scale, linked administrative data has provided insight into where scarce resources may be most effectively targeted and informs understanding of maltreated children within a broader, population-based context. Putnam-Hornstein maintains appointments as a Distinguished Scholar at the University of Southern California where she co-directs the Children’s Data Network and as a research specialist with the California Child Welfare Indicators Project at UC Berkeley. Read More about Putnam-Hornstein’s research projects.
Sarah Verbiest, Dr. P.H.Sarah Verbiest, Clinical Professor, Director of the Jordan Institute for Families
Verbiest brings over 20 years of expertise, leadership, and research in maternal, child, women, and family well-being to her work. She leads programs that work with 300+ clinics across North Carolina on issues related to infant safe sleep, tobacco cessation, postpartum care, and maternal health warning signs. She serves on policy teams such as the Child Fatality Task Force, studies preconception, and postpartum well-being, and has convened state and national coalitions to address maternal and infant mortality disparities. Verbiest is a co-principal director for the Maternal Health Learning and Innovation Center, a new national resource center developed to accelerate innovative and evidence-informed interventions that improve maternal health and eliminate maternal health inequities. In addition to her other roles, she also serves as the executive director of the Collaborative for Maternal and Infant Health at UNC’s School of Medicine. Read more about Verbiest’s research projects.