Month: March 2024

NIA-Funded Study Explores Re-Engagement of Black Older Adults After COVID-19

With the support of a $7 million National Institutes on Aging (NIA) Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center grant, Assistant Professor Rupal Parekh is leading a pilot study about the impact of social isolation and loneliness on the health and well-being of Black and African American older adults in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parekh’s research goal is to investigate both the barriers and the facilitators of engagement for Black and African American older adults in activities they enjoyed before the pandemic. These activities include attendance to church services, which formed the center of social engagement for many in this community, as well as involvement in senior centers. A body of research shows a direct relationship between isolation and negative health outcomes for older adults.

Preliminary findings are based on focus group interviews with leaders, staff and volunteers at churches and senior centers in the Greater Hartford area. The interviews explored engagement and disengagement among the older adults who had largely stopped going to church and senior centers during the height of the pandemic.

One finding is that older Black and African American adults are going to church again but more of them do it online than before the pandemic. “What I'm seeing is that churches have had to be creative in their offerings and they offer a variety of modalities for adults to be engaged,” says Parekh. Rather than return to attending in-person, where these elders had “eyes and ears” on them in the community, many older adults are compensating by continuing to attend online.

While this form of engagement helps reduce isolation for older adults, it does not encourage physical activity, which also decreased during the pandemic. “When you're only online, you're not getting up, going in a car, you're not moving,” she observes. “There's likely an impact in the long run with health and health outcomes.”

Generally, Parekh and Co-Principal Investigator Christine Tocchi, an assistant professor at UConn School of Nursing, have found that despite ongoing concerns about COVID, older Black and African American adults have been excited to return to church and to senior centers in their communities.

In the second phase of her work, which is near completion, Parekh and the research team are conducting one-on-one interviews with 30 seniors. Those interviews examine how the adults are engaged in various aspects of their lives, including shopping and gathering with friends. Once those interviews are analyzed, the plan is to present the findings to the older adults and service providers to co-develop interventions that will foster re-engagement.

Read more about the research in a story on UConn Today and Parekh’s work.



Study Examines Relationship Between Maternal Employment and Child Maltreatment

Associate Professor Meg Feely co-authored a paper published in Social Service Review that examines the relationship between maternal employment and the risk for child maltreatment. The paper was selected as the editor’s choice article and the only article in the volume available to the public via open access. The editor’s choice are articles that best embody the mission of the journal to publish work that is both empirically and theoretically rigorous, while also being of wide general interest.

The research uses data from the national Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which surveys 5,000 low-income families in 20 cities across 16 states. The study includes data collected from families at birth and repeated at ages 3, 5 and 9. Feely and her co-authors examined the relationship between maternal employment and child maltreatment, including self-reported behaviors from mothers as well as conditions that raise the risk of maltreatment, such as unstable housing.

Feely and the research team found that too little and too much maternal employment was associated with maltreatment risk. “Both working more than full time and much less than full time – the standard 40-hour workweek – starts to increase the risk of gaps in care,” Feely says. These gaps in child care raise the risk of neglect, the most common form of maltreatment.

The findings challenge the theory that more work leads to better outcomes for children, with implications for public policies that impact children and low-income families. Feely and her research colleagues are currently working on another paper looking at the relationship between employment, unemployment and maltreatment.

Read more about Feely’s work.

U.S. HRSA Award Supports Telehealth for Positive Parenting

Innovations Institute, in partnership with the Maryland Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics (MDAAP), has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Healthy Tomorrows Partnership for Children Program. The TREEHOUSE Program is an expansion into telehealth of the existing TREE program, a clinical service that promotes positive parenting, parent-child interactions, and social-emotional well-being through interactive, developmental telehealth coaching provided by pediatric providers to underserved families with children ages 0-2.

Margo Candelaria is the principal investigator for the TREEHOUSE Program and co-director of the Innovation’s Parent, Infant, and Early Childhood Program. She expressed her enthusiasm for this important collaborative effort: “It has been very exciting to continue our work with the MDAAP and expand TREE’s positive impact on marginalized families within primary care to the telehealth environment."

The Program increases access to quality preventive care and services to promote health equity and enhances population health among very young children, and their families, in marginalized communities. To date 30 have been trained in the TREEHOUSE model across four coaching cohorts. Data from the first three cohorts indicate that 21 providers fully completed training to receive Maintenance of Certificate professional development credits and 131 children have received a telehealth developmental coaching visit. Eighty-seven percent of trained providers reported being very or extremely satisfied with the TREEHOUSE program, and 100% of trained providers reported TREEHOUSE gave them better insight into the strengths and challenges of parents they serve. Nine cohorts total will be conducted through Spring of 2026. The TREEHOUSE project, and its predecessor, TREE, which takes place during well-child visits, was presented at the World Association of Infant Mental Health in Dublin, Ireland in July 2023.

MACPAC Supports Study Examining Health Care Access for Youth in the Child Welfare System

Mathematica and Innovations Institute have partnered to advance policymakers’ understanding of how Medicaid and child welfare agencies ensure youth in the child welfare system receive access to health care.

The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) has awarded a 10-month contract to Mathematica, who has partnered with Innovations, to help the commission better understand the role and responsibilities of state Medicaid and child welfare agencies in meeting the health care needs of children and youth served by the child welfare system.

Innovations Institute brings extensive expertise to the intersection of Medicaid and child welfare services at the federal, state, and local levels across the country and will help shed light on the current state-specific child welfare landscape.

This report resulting from this project serves to inform MACPAC’s deliberations on policies and strategies for ensuring that Medicaid- and CHIP-eligible children in the child welfare system have timely access to quality care. Together the partners identifying current federal rules that require state Medicaid and child welfare agencies to ensure health care access for Medicaid-enrolled children and youth in foster care. They are selecting, profiling, and interviewing Medicaid and child welfare agencies in seven states to provide MACPAC with an understanding of how states implement federal requirements around health care access and the issues they face in ensuring the delivery of all necessary health services.

Read more about Innovations Institute.

CT DMHAS Grant Supports Research on College Students and Gambling

Eleni Rodis, managing director of research for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (CT DMHAS) Research Division at the UConn School of Social Work (SSW), and Wendy Ulaszek, associate research professor at the SSW, recently conducted a study of Connecticut college students and gambling. The research is supported by a grant from the Problem Gambling Services (PGS) of CT DMHAS.

The researchers used a mixed methods approach, including surveys of college students and focus groups with students and staff to investigate the prevalence of gambling behaviors among students, as well as awareness of resources to address problem gambling behavior. More than 1,300 college students from 30 colleges and universities across the state – public, community, and private schools – participated in the online survey. The survey posed questions about:

• Types of gambling
• The Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI), a screening tool used to measure the severity of gambling problems in general population research
• Motivations and reasons why students gamble
• Facilitators to help students stop gambling
• Co-occurring issues such as mental health diagnoses

After a year of collecting survey and focus-group data, Rodis and Ulaszek and the research team, including Project Manager Amanda Mihaly (also with the DMHAS Research Division at the UConn SSW), completed a preliminary analysis of their study. They found a high prevalence of gambling among college students in the state: 74% of all students had engaged in some type of gambling in the past year. The two most popular forms of gambling students reported were bingo and the lotto/lottery. Among those who scored higher on the PGSI, internet-based and sports betting were most common.

In addition to these findings, Rodis, Ulaszek, Mihaly and the team observed that the study itself served as an intervention, allowing students to reflect on their beliefs about gambling. It also led college staff to consider changing their practices so they ask students about gambling and provide information about gambling to students and families.

In collaboration with the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, the researchers plan to continue to disseminate the survey and raise awareness about this emerging issue.

Faculty Research Explores Voter Engagement for the Formerly Incarcerated

In our democracy, the group with the lowest voting participation rate are formerly incarcerated individuals convicted of a felony — a group representing nearly 20 million adults in the United States. In most states, including Connecticut, this population loses the right to vote while incarcerated but regain it when they return to their communities. However, they vote at very low rates.

To raise awareness about voter engagement among formerly incarcerated individuals in Connecticut, Assistant Professor Sukhmani Singh and Director of The Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work Tanya Rhodes Smith partnered with Full Citizens Coalition to conduct a pilot study supported by a grant entitled, “A Participatory Transformation & Pilot Implementation of the Voter Engagement Model with Formerly Incarcerated BIPOC Individuals: Centering Critical Consciousness in Political Social Work Practice.”

“The goal of the study was to co-create a curriculum with Full Citizens Coalition, led by James Jeter — a nationally recognized change leader and community organizer — to clarify rules, to share why voting matters, and to learn how we can develop and sharpen tools that bring formerly incarcerated citizens back into exercising their right to vote and build power,” says Singh.

The research methodology is primarily qualitative, relying on interviews from five focus groups conducted in the state’s three largest cities: Hartford, Waterbury and Bridgeport. The participants in the pilot were mostly men of color (69% men; 85% were BIPOC); 90.6% had at least completed high school. Together, the research team sought to explore, via focus groups, how participants reflected on and experienced their civic life before and after incarceration, as well as their beliefs about voting, power and democracy. The focus groups also shed light on the challenges and barriers participants named to exercising one of their key rights.

In their analysis, the research team identified four themes: public systems and their harms; manufactured ambivalence; the desire to engage in power building; and community-identified gaps in democratic education.

Rhodes Smith explains further how structural barriers — opaque political systems, gerrymandering, and lack of response to community needs, among others — undermine voter participation. “What looks like voter disengagement or apathy is not actually apathy,” she says, “it’s manufactured ambivalence.”

Singh agrees. “Participants name experiencing this critical, and I would argue — manufactured — paradox. They articulate how public systems perpetuate harm, throw them out of the voting process, and say that nothing changes and they don’t vote. At the same time, they know that voting does matter because they can see resources present in other areas that do not suffer from divestment and the high incarceration per capita rate. While they name how politicians and public systems have failed them, they also are paying attention and watching what politicians are doing, and desire to build efficacy to change harmful structures.”

With these findings, the researchers plan to conduct a second phase of their pilot study, and co-transform a training with Full Citizens Coalition, led by Jeter and Rhodes Smith about voter engagement that is rooted in the theoretical and power building ideas espoused by Brazilian educator Paolo Freire.

Co-researchers include Jeter, co-director of Full Citizens Coalition and a community organizer, and Urania Petit, an international elections monitor. The researchers also honor and name graduate assistants and doctoral students who contributed to this process: Joshua Adler, Lukas Champagne, and Fernando Valenzuela.

Read more about the work of Singh and Rhodes Smith.

Writing Letters for Gender-Affirming Healthcare

Sarah A. Gilbert, LCSW

Sat, April 20, 2024Register Now for CE programs
Live Webinar
10 am – 12 pm
2 CECs – this program provides 2 hours of content on cultural competence

Registration Fee: $50
10% discount for UConn SSW Alumni and Current SSW Field Instructors

Link will be emailed when your registration is complete.

If you have some experience in working with trans, non-binary clients, yet you feel unsure about how to go about writing the required mental health assessment letter for your clients to access gender-affirming care, this training is for you!

Clients seeking access to gender-affirming healthcare (including cross-hormone treatment and various surgical procedures) are typically required to get referral letters from mental health professionals. Unfortunately, far too often, these individuals struggle with finding providers who feel comfortable writing these letters, which causes barriers and delays in accessing affirming and life-saving treatment.

Far too often, members of this community experience harmful gatekeeping in accessing the affirming and life-saving services they need as a result. In this 2 hour live interactive webinar, you will be given the information you need to be able to provide a referral letter for gender-affirming healthcare, which will leave you feeling confident in providing this valuable service for your clients.

In our time together, you will:

  • understand the harms that gatekeeping creates for trans/non-binary clients experience in accessing gender-affirming treatment, and the ways in which we can avoid replicating this in our own practices
  • learn about the WPATH Standards of care and understand how to navigate using the SOC in conjunction with insurance policies, physician’s requirements to help write letters that will be successful in getting approvals for gender-affirming healthcare.
  • receive up to date information about specific guidelines for clients with Husky/CT Medicaid insurance in accessing gender-affirming healthcare.
  • learn tips for advocacy with insurance companies in navigating denials for gender-affirming surgeries.

We will also have ample time for Q&A, to address your specific questions about how to apply this knowledge to your practice.

Associate Dean for Research Jennifer Manuel Named SSWR Fellow

At the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Annual Conference, the UConn SSW’s Associate Dean for Research Jennifer Manuel was welcomed to the 2024 class of Fellows. SSWR Fellows are members who have served with distinction to advance the mission of the Society -- to advance, disseminate, and translate research that addresses issues of social work practice and policy and promotes a diverse, equitable and just society.

The SSWR Fellowship has been established by the Society to honor and to recognize current SSWR members for their individual accomplishments, leadership and contribution to SSWR as a scientific society. It is anticipated that SSWR Fellows will serve as role models and mentors for individuals pursuing careers in social work research and will continue to actively advance the mission of the Society.

Eligibility for the SSWR Fellow designation is determined by a point system established by the SSWR Board of Directors. Designation as a SSWR Fellow is limited. The number of inductees this year was approximately one percent of the SSWR membership. SSWR Fellows maintain their status as long as they are current members of the Society.

In addition to being an associate dean, Manuel is also an associate professor at the UConn SSW. She earned her MSW and Ph.D. from Columbia University School of Social Work. Her research broadly addresses health disparities and transitions in care among youth, young adults and adults with substance use, mental health and other critical needs (housing, employment, health, trauma).

Read more about her work.