Research News Featured

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.

NIMH/NIH Loan Repayment Grant Supports Study on LGBTQ+ Youth and Eating Disorders

Associate Professor Meg Paceley led a study examining the relationship between the family and community environments of LGBTQ+ youth and disordered eating behaviors. The research was published in Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services and supported by the National Institute of Mental Health/National Institutes of Health (NIMH/NIH) Loan Repayment Program ($58,000).

To explore the relationship between disordered eating and acceptance or rejection of LGBTQ+ youth in both family and community contexts, Paceley and the research team – including Ryan Watson from the UConn Department of Human Development and Family Studies – used data from the National LGBTQ+ Teen Survey, an anonymous online survey of 7,895 LGBTQ+ youth aged 13 to 17 collected in 2017. The survey questions included measures of acceptance or rejection from parents or caregivers; it also explored community factors such as climate, LGBTQ+ involvement, LGBTQ+ support and anti-LGBTQ+ bullying. The researchers assessed disordered eating behaviors related to attempting to control one’s weight (taking diet pills, fasting, purging) and binge eating.

The study found that LGBTQ+ youth who experienced family rejection and LGBTQ+-based bullying were more likely to report disordered eating patterns for weight control and binge eating. However, youth who experienced LGBTQ+ community acceptance and support were less likely to engage in those disordered eating behaviors.

The study results show that both families and communities are important environments that contribute to disordered eating among LGBTQ+ youth. Paceley is currently analyzing data from the 2022 National LGBTQ+ Teen Survey and preparing a submission for federal funding to study transgender youth and disordered eating longitudinally.

Read more about Paceley’s work.

Researcher Leads Study on Long COVID’s Effects on Mental Health and More

With a $49,000 Research Excellence Program grant from UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research, Assistant Professor Kelsi Carolan will lead a qualitative study with a focus on individuals with long COVID in Connecticut. The term “long COVID” describes a clinical set of post-COVID symptoms that may include fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction, among other effects.

The aims of Carolan’s research are to investigate how long COVID affects employment, family and social relationships, and mental health; what coping strategies affected individuals are utilizing to manage the psychosocial repercussions of long COVID; and what types of professional and clinical interventions are needed to best support psychosocial functioning in the context of long COVID.

“We are aiming to focus especially on the needs and experiences of Black/African American and Latine individuals experiencing long Covid symptoms given that the psychosocial impact of long COVID on these populations has so far been understudied,” says Carolan.

The novel research brings together a multidisciplinary team of faculty from UConn and UConn Health Center with complementary expertise to address significant gaps in understanding of a new and poorly understood chronic disease. Rachel Tambling, professor in Human Development and Family Sciences at UConn, is co-principal investigator. Contributors also include Ameer Rasheed, assistant professor of medicine in Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at UConn Health, and Chinenye Anyanwu, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the UConn School of Pharmacy.

Read more about Carolan’s work.

NIH/NIAAA Grant Funds Research on Social Isolation and Alcohol Use During and Post-COVID

Associate Research Professor Hsiu-Ju Lin, has joined an interdisciplinary team awarded a $1.5 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH/NIAAA) to investigate the relationship between social isolation, loneliness, stress and coping mechanisms with alcohol use across the United States.

There are two parts to the study. In the first phase, the research team will carry out a series of sophisticated analyses using a nationwide survey of more than 1,500 participants during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to understand the link between coping mechanisms and alcohol consumption. An innovative aspect of this phase involves utilizing geo-coding and participants' geographic locations to assess place-based sources of stress. It aims to explore how these factors are associated with social isolation and loneliness and to understand the impact of these inter-relationships on drinking, Lin explains. The GIS analysis is overseen by Associate Professor Debarchana Ghosh from the Department of Geography at UConn.

In the second part of the study, the researchers will collect prospective data to validate their isolation, loneliness, and coping strategy conceptual model and compare pandemic and post-pandemic periods.

“The main goal is to understand how social isolation and loneliness during COVID impact alcohol consumption,” she says. “We want to understand the mechanism and impact of that unique stress.”

Lin, the co-investigator, is collaborating with PIs Michael Fendrich, Crystal Park, Beth Russell, as well as co-Investigator Ghosh. Fendrich, formerly the associate dean for research at the UConn SSW, is a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin; Park is a professor of Psychological Sciences; Russell is an associate professor in the Human Development and Family Sciences department.

Read more about Lin’s work.

U.S. Administration for Children and Families Grant Funds Research Project

With a cooperative agreement sub-award of $300,000, co-Principal Investigators Jon Phillips and Cristina Mogro-Wilson will study “PRESERVE & CONNECT: Partnerships in Rigorous Evaluation of Services that Enhance family wellbeing in Rural VErmont, and urban Latine and Black communities in CONNECTicut.”

The primary goal of the project is to determine whether the “Breakthrough Parenting Curriculum: Navigating Trauma Across Generations (BPC)”— a trauma-informed parenting intervention — is effective at promoting child, parent, and family wellbeing among underserved families at-risk for involvement with the child welfare system. The researchers have partnered with colleagues at the University of Vermont and local community agencies, including the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and Wheeler Clinic, to conduct a three-year, multi-site randomized control trial of the intervention.

“This project allows us to focus on supporting families and preventing child maltreatment in our home state rather than waiting until things get to the point where the child welfare system opens a case,” says Phillips. “Another exciting aspect of this study is that we will be providing financial compensation to parents who have lived experiences with the child welfare system to become trained in the intervention and co-facilitate the parenting group alongside a mental health professional.”

This project is supported by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the United States (U.S.) Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award (Award#:90FA3008-01-00) totaling $1.5 million with 100 percent funded by ASCF/HHS. The contents are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACF/HHS or the U.S. Government.

Learn more about Phillips and Mogro-Wilson's research.

Four SSW Alums Win Local Elections in CT

Four UConn School of Social Work alums recently won their local elections in Connecticut. We extend our congratulations to:

Pamela Floyd-Cranford ’96 SSW won re-election to the Manchester Board of Directors

Darleen Klase ’88 (CLAS) ’08 SSW won a seat on the Windsor Town Council

Dr. Shannon Lane ’09 SSW won a seat on the Bethany Board of Education

Sarah Miller ’22 SSW won her re-election to the New Haven Board of Alders

Both Dr. Lane and Klase were endorsed by NASW/CT PASE, the political action committee of NASW/CT.

“UConn SSW is proud to have so many of our alumni leading in politics and policy across the state and country,” says Tanya Rhodes Smith, instructor in residence and director of The Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work. “Social workers are uniquely qualified to serve as elected officials because they bring the profession's values, expertise of how policy impacts communities and populations, and our commitment to social justice to their role as leaders.”



Marlene Matarese Received Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program Award in Social Work

Associate Research Professor Marlene Matarese has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award in Social Work to Galway, Ireland, for the 2023 – 2024 academic year, from the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Matarese is the deputy director of Innovations Institute at UConn School of Social Work and specializes in evidence-based and evidence-informed intervention design; and best practices in implementation science within the context of the public child-, youth-, and family-serving systems as well as LGBTQ+/sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, workforce development; and systems of care.

The focus of her work has been improving access to and the quality of systems and services for children and youth with public system involvement. Matarese is the Principal Investigator (PI) for the National Quality Improvement Center on Tailored Services, Placement Stability, and Permanency for LGBTQ+ Children and Youth in Foster Care, and the National Quality Improvement Center on Family-Centered Reunification funded by the Children’s Bureau. She is also PI for the National Center of Excellence for LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health Equity, funded by SAMHSA and the National Center for Youth with Diverse Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression. Marlene serves as PI on other national, large-scale initiatives including the design, implementation, and evaluation of numerous best practices.

Since September 2023, Matarese has been hosted in Ireland by the University of Galway, School of Political Science and Sociology, Social Work Programme. She is leading a research project on foster care experiences of LGBTQ+ youth who have transitioned out of care from September 2023 through April 2024 entitled Exploration of LGBTQ+ Young Adults' Experiences in Ireland's Child Welfare System: Building a Foundation of LGBTQ+ Culturally Responsive Care. Additionally, as visiting faculty, she is reviewing social work practice curricula to embed LGBTQ+ content throughout, mentor students, and lecture across the region.

Matarese is among over 800 U.S. citizens who will teach or conduct research abroad for the 2023-2024 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. Fulbrighters engage in cutting-edge research and expand their professional networks, often continuing research collaborations started abroad and laying the groundwork for forging future partnerships between institutions. Upon returning to their home countries, institutions, labs, and classrooms, they share their stories and often become active supporters of international exchange, inviting foreign scholars to campus, and encouraging colleagues and students to go abroad.

For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit

Learn more about Matarese’s work.

Rebecca Thomas Received Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program Award in Social Work

Professor Rebecca L. Thomas has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award in Social Work to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the 2023-2024 academic year, from the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Thomas teaches in the Policy Practice concentration at UConn School of Social Work (SSW) and is the director of the Center for International Social Work Studies at SSW. She represents the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) at the United Nations on the NGO Committee of migration, and also serves on the Katherine Kendal Institute of CSWE. Her research and scholarship include international social work, international development, climate-induced migration, and refugees and immigrants.

From January 2024, Thomas will be working at the New Bulgaria University situated in Sofia, on three initiatives, with implications for research, policy recommendations, and sustained collaboration. She will be teaching a course on Program Evaluation to Doctoral Students; expanding her research on the lived experiences of Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria; and working with diverse stakeholders to strengthen social work practice and policy initiatives to advance the Rights of the Child in Bulgaria. These projects were developed in consultation with the leadership and faculty of the New Bulgaria University.

Thomas is among over 800 U.S. citizens who will teach or conduct research abroad for the 2023-2024 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. Fulbrighters engage in cutting-edge research and expand their professional networks, often continuing research collaborations started abroad and laying the groundwork for forging future partnerships between institutions. Upon returning to their home countries, institutions, labs, and classrooms, they share their stories and often become active supporters of international exchange, inviting foreign scholars to campus, and encouraging colleagues and students to go abroad.

"We congratulate Dr. Thomas on her Fulbright Scholar Program Award,” says SSW Dean Laura Curran. “This honor demonstrates her deep knowledge and expertise in international social work, research on refugees, and policy practice. It will also expand our School’s impact and support our mission to improve human well-being, both locally and globally.”

For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit

Learn more about Thomas’s research.

EPA Grant Supports Work on Brownfields

In collaboration with colleagues in UConn Civil and Environmental Engineering, Assistant Professor Rupal Parekh has secured a $5 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for Technical Assistance to Brownfields Communities (TAB).

The primary goal of this grant is to empower New England states, tribes, communities, and various stakeholders to collectively address the prevention, assessment, safe cleanup, and sustainable reuse of brownfields. Brownfields refers to land that is completely or partially abandoned and likely polluted from past human activity. The overarching objective is to provide technical assistance and foster community engagement to support leaders and residents in enhancing the livability of their living environments for people of all ages.

“UConn TAB will work to ensure that residents in communities historically impacted by economic disinvestment, health disparities, and environmental contamination have the opportunity to benefit from brownfields redevelopment,” says Parekh.

Learn more about Parekh's work.