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Conference Focuses on Intervention Research

Conference Focuses on Intervention Research

Twenty years ago, it was an impossibility. But on Oct. 22-23, about 50 federally funded, professionally trained social work investigators from around the country gathered at the Davidson Conference Center for the Los Angeles Conference on Intervention Research in Social Work.

Decades ago, it was rare for social workers to get funding from the National Institutes of Health because they were considered poorly trained in research methods and analysis, said John Brekke, the Frances G. Larson Professor of Social Work Research at the USC School of Social Work.

In the last 15 years, Brekke has received more than $10 million in federal funding on projects in which he served as principal investigator. He is not alone. More and more social workers have established themselves as qualified researchers and are earning high scores as they go after competitive grants against those in other fields.

“This is a wonderful, historic moment,” Brekke said. “Twenty years ago, we couldn’t have gotten a group like this together.”

The conference, hosted by the School of Social Work’s Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services, in collaboration with the Institute for Advancement of Social Work Research, provided an arena for social workers to present their research findings, elaborate on the importance of research and discuss issues pertinent to the future of intervention research.

Intervention research in social work is the study of social, mental and health services interventions. Social work interventions aim to improve the conditions of individuals, groups and communities.

In her welcoming remarks, dean Marilyn Flynn said intervention research is a “special interest” of the USC School of Social Work. She and several conference presenters and commentators mentioned the importance of social workers involved in intervention research.

Social work was once a part of the discipline of sociology, said Lawrence Palinkas, the Albert G. and Frances Lomas Feldman Professor of Social Policy and Health at the USC School of Social Work. But there was a big difference between the two groups, he added.

“Sociology was based on theory,” Palinkas said. “We’re a profession built on practice.”

So while sociologists were the ones getting the funding to conduct the research, social workers were the ones applying it.

Mary McKay, professor of psychiatry and community medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, has received substantial federal funding for her research on meeting the mental health and prevention needs of youths and families. She also holds a Ph.D. in social work.

“Social workers come with a package of skills,” she said during her presentation. These include interpersonal, leadership, strong communication skills and proficient research capabilities, McKay added.

As the National Institutes of Health began to realize the impact social workers were having in the field, federal officials recognized the need and importance to engage and collaborate with them to help deal with some of society’s most pressing social issues.

Before this change, Brekke said, research was mostly being done in university based clinics by investigators far removed from the real world.

“And when you apply that in urban areas like Los Angeles, you can have a train wreck,” he said.

Established researchers, as well as current doctoral and master’s of social work students, were among those who attended the two-day conference. Professors from various social work programs gave presentations on their area of research.

Among them, USC School of Social Work associate professor Concepcion Barrio highlighted her current research, which examines the development of a culturally based family intervention for Mexican Americans dealing with mental illness; Sheryl Kubiak, associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of Social Work, presented findings from a program for pregnant incarcerated women; and Jeffrey Jenson, associate dean for research at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver, spoke about preventing childhood aggression and bullying.

Other presenters included Kathy Ell, USC; Gary Bond, Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center; Mark Fraser, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Daniel Herman, Columbia University; J. David Hawkins, University of Washington; Jeffrey Yarvis of Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; and Amy Watson from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Conference Focuses on Intervention Research

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