“For me, it just keeps coming back to: How will my research have a direct, real impact on the lives of children and their families?”  
— Carol Coohey

Some of the best known, well-respected journals are conduits of our faculty scholarship, including Social Service Review, Social Work, The Gerontologist, Child Welfare, Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, Affilia, Families in Society, and Social Work in Health Care. Our faculty serve on over 15 editorial boards for professional journals.

The faculty of the School of Social Work focus their research in one (or a combination) of the following areas: Child Welfare, Family Violence, Aging/End-of-Life Care, Diversity and Social Justice, Gender and Sexuality, Health/Mental Health/Substance Abuse and Organizations and Communities.

Research Updates from selected faculty

Mercedes Bern-Klug, PhD   Nobody wants to die young yet few want to get old.  One of our culture’s most feared aspects of growing older is losing independence due to cognitive or physical frailty. My research is concerned with how society can provide better care to persons living with advanced chronic illness.  I’m part of a national team developing educational materials for nursing home social workers so that they can provide better care to residents and family members.  My recently published model of medical decision-making reminds health care professionals that in addition to medical information, families benefit from emotional support when weighing medical and end-of-life decisions.  New ideas about the potential of old age are percolating in society; my work is part of expanding society’s expectations of these possibilities for all older adults including those with disabilities.   

Miriam Landsman, PhD  The absence of safe, affordable housing is a significant factor that leaves homeless, child welfare involved families vulnerable to having children removed from their care and delaying reunification when children are in out-of-home care.  In collaboration with Four Oaks, the Iowa Department of Human Services, and the Affordable Housing Network in Cedar Rapids, I am evaluating a five-year experiment in providing supportive housing to 125 child welfare involved families in Linn County, Iowa. This is one of five demonstration projects in the nation funded by the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Click here for Dr. Landsman's poster from the 2016 SSWR Conference, "A Cross-Systems Approach to Supportive Housing in Child Welfare"

Sara Sanders, PhD   I am currently working with the Iowa Medical Classification Center to implement advance care planning for offenders who have chronic health conditions and expected to die within the next year.  This research has demonstrated the challenges associated with honoring the end of life wishes of individuals who reside in correctional settings as systemic change takes time, prison policy and protocols are often counter to the desires of the offenders, potential family decision makes are not involved, and extensive unaddressed psychosocial issues that arise as death approaches.  As the barriers associated with implementing advance care planning for dying offenders are addressed, it is hoped that a uniform system for identifying the wishes of dying offenders can be implemented throughout the state.

Amy Butler, PhD   Using longitudinal data that spanned several decades, Professor Amy Butler found that women diagnosed with depression as children continued to have elevated symptoms of psychological distress in the decades that followed.  Moreover, their children were more likely than other children to be born into single-parent families, to be exposed to poverty as children, and to exhibit depressive symptoms themselves.  This raises the troubling issue that even when depression is diagnosed early in life, the individuals and their future children are likely to experience more adverse conditions over the course of their lives compared to other families. These findings highlight the importance of expanding the availability and outreach of accessible and affordable adult and child mental health services.

Carol Coohey, PhD   Along with my colleague, Dr. Julie Bockenstedt (director of the Humility of Mary Shelter and adjunct faculty at the UI), I am examining factors related to depression and suicidal thoughts among adults who are homeless in the Quad Cities area.  Our first study showed that the number of sources of psychological pain (being very troubled by family problems, past victimization, employment problems, etc.) and past suicide attempts predicted current suicidal thoughts but being diagnosed with a depressive disorder did not.  We concluded, it is important for shelter workers to ask adults whether they have attempted suicide in the past and how troubled they are by each area of their lives during the intake process and to remain alert for factors related to suicide ideation.  To understand predictors of suicidal ideation, workers need to be well-trained in suicide assessment, and know how and when to refer adults for services outside the shelter.

Ed Saunders, PhD  In cooperation with Advocates for Youth, a national advocacy organization in Washington DC, I am investigating the development and sustainability of community-wide pregnancy prevention initiatives in nine communities in the U.S (funded by the CDC).   The focus of my research has been the development and implementation of three community teams responsible for “mobilizing” their communities in support of evidence-based sexuality programs for youth and improved access to youth-responsive contraceptive health services.  This research has direct implications for Iowa communities invested in teen pregnancy prevention as it identifies successful strategies that can be used here.

Yvonne Farley, MSW   During the last year, I have been doing a research project on the use of mindfulness and meditation in the classroom. The hope is that it will teach students skills which they can in turn use with clients, especially those with anxiety disorders. Additionally, it will help students to be more self-aware when they are challenged by clients. This is very applicable to use with veterans and the challenges they and their families face after deployment, a population I work with every summer. This summer I worked with the children of soldiers, providing them with support and coping skills for the challenges they face as a result of their parent’s job.

Megan Gilster, PhD  While some neighborhoods support the physical and mental health of residents, many do not. In analysis of a survey of Chicago residents, I found that neighborhoods with more stressors (e.g., vandalism, noise, lack of services) were associated with more depressive symptoms among residents. Furthermore, results suggested that mastery—or one’s sense of control over their life—protected against depressive symptoms for whites and those in the lowest stress neighborhoods. Findings from this research underscore the importance of addressing neighborhood stressors. Improving neighborhoods may improve resident mental and physical health through multiple pathways.

Billie Marchik, MSW  As the social work profession in Iowa faces an aging workforce, comparatively low salaries, and challenging work environments, there are important questions about the replacement, retention and stability of its workforce.  To better understand these issues, I have been involved in a study of the social work labor force, conducted in collaboration with and on behalf of the Iowa chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.  The study is focused on a number of related factors:  salaries, licensure, educational preparation for practice, educational debt, work-family conflict, caretaking responsibilities, workforce plans, and organizational and professional commitment.

Alison Oliver, MSW  I am currently serving on the Institute Planning Committee for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). We are developing a Winter Institute to be held in January 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri, on trauma-informed sex therapy, counseling, and education. While trauma-informed care is not a new concept to practitioners, its application to sex therapy and sexuality education is still developing. Clinicians, counselors, and educators have identified a gap in their knowledge and skills in applying a trauma-informed lens to work in sexuality. Current clinical and educational approaches tend to focus on risks and vulnerabilities while ignoring positive sex development and resilience in sexual expression and growth. The AASECT Winter Institute seeks to offer cutting edge researchers and practitioners to bridge the gap between trauma-informed care and sexuality education, counseling, and therapy.

Julia Kleinschmit, MSW  With our Sioux City MSW students, I am working with the University of Iowa’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities on a number of fronts: 1) Increasing involvement of social services agencies in region-wide transportation planning; 2) Increasing access to transportation in Siouxland for people with disabilities; and  3) Enhancing cultural relevance of Sioux City’s Blue Zone Initiative to better include Spanish speaking people and people with serious and persistent mental illnesses. My other major thrusts include evaluating better ways area Tribes and the States of Iowa and Nebraska can recruit, support, and retain Native American foster parents, and  pushing the envelope on distance education so that we can provide excellent social work education “coast to coast” in Iowa, and beyond.

Lily French, MSW  The cultural assumption that if you work hard enough you will be able to support yourself and your family is increasingly more myth than reality. With one in 6 working Iowa households and nearly three out of 5 employed single parent households struggling to make ends meet, we must look more closely at the intersection of available wages and basic living expenses to understand current struggles for economic security. The 2014 Cost of Living in Iowa  report series, co-authored with Peter Fisher of the Iowa Policy Project, illustrates how much Iowa families must earn in order to meet their basic needs and underscores the importance of public work support programs for many who, despite their work efforts, are not able to pay for the most basic living expenses.

May Guo, PhD Latinos and Asians are the fastest growing ethnic minority groups in the United States, but studies of seniors’ mental health have been largely limited to Whites and African Americans. Using a nationally representative sample, my colleagues and I found that older Latinos were almost twice as likely as older Asians to have any anxiety or mood disorders in their lifetime (34.5% vs. 17.7%) and in the past year (14.3% vs. 7.4%). In addition, in both groups, family cultural conflict was associated with a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders, whereas family cohesion was associated with a lower prevalence of mood disorders. Although most previous studies have emphasized the psychological benefits of cohesive family ties in the two groups, our findings show that more research is needed to understand the causes and psychological implications of family cultural conflicts among older ethnic minorities.

Carolyn Hartley, PhD  Iowa law provides for restitution to be ordered and paid to victims of crime who suffer physical injury, property damage, lost wages, or other expenses related to their victimization. Many barriers exist in the ordering and collection of victim restitution including victims' failure to request restitution, the victim or court's inability to determine the loss experienced, perceptions of the defendant's inability to pay, and difficulty tracking offenders to enforce payment. I am working with the Crime Victim Assistance Division (CVAD) of the Attorney's Generals Office to conduct a needs assessment of the victim restitution process in Iowa to assist CVAD in developing an implementation project to improve this process in Iowa.