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Two College of Social Work professors are working with the South Carolina Department of Corrections to address the mental health needs of inmates and stem the cycle of crime. Dr. Dana DeHart and Dr. Aidyn Iachini have been awarded a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to develop a training curriculum on the subject of offenders’ mental health. Dr. DeHart hopes this new curriculum will “address a constellation of needs” for a variety of stakeholders.

After Dr. DeHart’s two decades of research in the field, it’s become clear to her that many offenders struggle with a variety of mental health issues that are not being adequately addressed, including post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, substance abuse, and culture shock from re-entering society after release. Left unacknowledged and untreated, trauma and mental illness can be a factor in recidivism. Unfortunately, education about the mental health of offenders has been lacking. She and Dr. Iachini find that people working in the correctional field simply don’t have a strong background in how to support inmates’ mental health needs.

Dr. DeHart notes that existing education offers a variety of perspectives on corrections issues across disciplines and programs with little integration. Furthermore, “funding often is not readily available for providing education to corrections professionals or for coordinated mental health care in communities,” says Dr. DeHart. This means that for inmates struggling with mental illness, there is no coordinated system of care and little hope for positive health outcomes.

To solve this problem, Dr. DeHart and Dr. Iachini will develop an innovative curriculum that appeals to what Dr. DeHart calls “existing and emerging professionals”—those currently working within corrections (which is a broad group of people in different roles, from social workers to administrators) and students who may enter that workforce. Dr. Iachini hopes this project will help corrections professionals be “better prepared to address mental health needs.”

This is a “blended learning curriculum,” meaning that it will be delivered via a combination of online and in-person modules. According to Dr. DeHart, the training will address “types of mental health issues with which inmates struggle, alternatives to incarceration, and ways that community providers can coordinate services.” There are also plans for an online module tailored to inmates on the subject of self-care.

Dr. DeHart and Dr. Iachini are currently forming an advisory board with the South Carolina Department of Corrections and other community members and organizations in order to find out their needs. Dr. Iachini feels that “listening to what folks need and want is critical for engagement” in the project and is a must for community-engaged research.

With the curriculum being pulled from the fields of social work, sociology, and criminology, collaboration is one of the researchers’ favorite aspects of this kind of project. Both Dr. DeHart and Dr. Iachini emphasize that everything they do is informed by listening to others. “I love working with community organizations and individuals and finding out what will be helpful for them,” says Dr. Iachini. “One of the nice things about being in South Carolina is that agencies are so willing to work with us,” she adds, also noting that the COSW has strong relationships with state and community agencies.

After the training is piloted and revised, it will be accessible to all who wish to use it. Dr. DeHart and Dr. Iachini hope to enhance the preparedness of corrections professionals nationwide through their open-use curriculum, leading to better care for those who need it, a broader understanding of mental health care, and ultimately a lower rate of recidivism for those caught in a cycle of crime due to their mental health issues.

“We would want to address mental health issues for those involved in the justice system as early as possible so that they do not become deeply enmeshed in the justice system,” explains Dr. DeHart, and “we would like to establish a continuum of care, so that when they re-enter communities they are less likely to re-enter the justice system.”  Ultimately, training on mental health issues will lead to better outcomes for everyone—inmates, corrections professionals, and communities.

mobilemarketWhen the local foods movement started gaining momentum, it caught the attention of Dr. Patricia Sharpe. She wondered how the growing interest in community gardening and farmers’ markets might affect lower-income populations. Would the push for local produce make healthy food more accessible for everyone? Dr. Sharpe was determined to find out, and her background in public health made her uniquely suited for researching the issues of food access and behaviors.

M MitchellIf there’s one thing that the South Carolina National Youth in Transition Database (SC NYTD) research team is passionate about, it’s empowering youth in foster care. According to Dr. Monique Mitchell, SC NYTD Research Director, that passion can be found in their mottos: “Staying connected” and “More than a data collection.”

“We want our youth to know that they are not numbers crunched in our system,” Dr. Mitchell said. According to her, including youth voices is key to transforming the systems that are designed to help them. One way that she and her team of researchers and graduate students at the Center for Child and Family Studies have done this is by expanding NYTD’s scope in South Carolina.

Rayford CropRevisedFlagTonia Rayford admits that when she entered USC’s MSW program in August 2012 after 30 years in the Air Force, the change wasn’t easy. “It’s a big transition, but it’s a good one,” she said, noting that her transition to civilian life came just at the right time. “I love coming to campus. I love jeans and flip flops. I love that people call me by my first name.”

But it is a different world—both within academia and beyond—especially for veterans like Rayford who have served multiple combat tours. The growing needs of military and veteran populations are part of what prompted Rayford to apply for the College of Social Work’s new military certificate program. “We need to be ready to support our troops when they come home,” Rayford said, citing the numerous factors that affect the health and well-being of service members and their families, from losing friends to facing divorce. “Even if they don’t have scars you can see, they have scars.”

Nallo 2The College of Social Work at USC has long been building bridges between countries and cultures—from crafting key partnerships with social workers in South Korea to engaging with a wide range of organizations within South Carolina. Most recently, the College of Social Work expanded its reach to partner with social work programs in India by co-sponsoring the International Conference on Women and Millennium Development Goals in Gujarat, India.

The conference was borne out of USC’s collaboration with the faculty of social work at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, and USC faculty and alumna also played key roles in the success of the conference. College of Social Work alumna Dr. Noël Busch-Armendariz delivered the keynote address, speaking on violence against women and how improving women’s lives will improve development. “The fact that the College of Social Work at USC is present and engaged in many countries around the world is impressive and says a lot about leadership,” said Dr. Busch-Armendariz, now a social work professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It makes me proud as a graduate.”

Kirk A. Foster decided he needed the tools of a social worker when, as a young minister, he felt his skills were inadequate to help parishioners who were losing jobs and struggling against poverty.

His ability to use tools―from mapping neighborhood boundaries by non-traditional means to analyzing social networks―helped him earn his doctoral degree in social work in 2011 from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and join the USC College of Social Work as an assistant professor in August 2011.

Now some of his research is contained in a book to be published next spring called Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes. Its other authors are social scientists Mark Robert Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University, and Thomas A. Hirschl, a professor of development sociology at Cornell University.

Dr. Arlene Andrews started her career in social work helping women abused by men. But the last part of her career has been devoted to helping men become better supporters of families.

Men sometimes fail to support their children because they’ve failed to support themselves—spiritually and materially, Andrews said.

“A social worker’s goal is justice, particularly restorative justice, to try to find a win-win situation where everyone gains,” she said. “Our goal is to create strong, healthy families. In order to do that, you have to work with every member of the family.”

CommunitiesGrowing change in our communities

If there’s one thing that Mr. Willie King is passionate about, it’s his garden. “If I could, I’d be out there 24 hours, seven days a week,” he said. “Sometimes during the day, that’s all I think about—what can I do to make it better? How can I pull more people in?”

As the Lyon Street Community Garden Manager and now the Lyon Street Community Vice President, Mr. King will be the first to say that the garden isn’t his—it’s the community’s. And all he wants to see, besides a great crop, is more community involvement.

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