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Research Areas

The School of Social Work faculty regularly focus on research that impacts people not only throughout the nation, but throughout the world. Our research can be grouped into six main themes: Child Welfare, Health and Mental Health, Poverty, Social Innovation, Social Work Research in Schools, and Workforce Development. We are experts in a variety of scientific methods including advanced observational science, advanced statistics, intervention science, qualitative research, and program evaluation.


The School of Social Work faculty and their collaborators are focused on the following research themes:

Child Welfare at the School of Social Work is defined as the social policies, practices, and services aimed at ensuring the safety, permanence and well-being of children and their families. Child welfare researchers engage a wide range of issues including the epidemiology of child maltreatment and public health implications, foster care and child welfare service delivery, and the impacts of policy on outcomes. Scholars focus their work both locally and nationally in the areas of:

  • Epidemiology of Child Maltreatment and Public Health – Advancing understanding of the incidence of child abuse and neglect in the United States along with their multi-level, interacting risk and protective factors and making a case for viewing child abuse and neglect in the United States as a critical public health issue
  • Foster Care and Child Welfare Services – Evaluating the service delivery and outcomes of children involved in public welfare systems and using research to support child welfare systems and agencies to be responsive to needs
  • Consumer-Perspectives and Experiences – Capturing the perspectives of children, families, and other child welfare professionals and using research to make person-centered-driven recommendations in systems of care
  • Strengthening Outcomes of Children and Families – Evaluating the degree to which policy, practices and services in Illinois have the intended impacts and using research to support decision makers in Illinois to make system decisions

Informed by a health equity framework, health and mental health research at the School of Social Work are broadly defined as a state in which all individuals have access to the resources necessary to achieve social, physical, and psychological well-being.  Researchers at the School focus their work locally and internationally in the areas of:

  • Developing and testing behavioral health interventions to improve physical and mental health and to reduce substance use and enhance adherence to treatment through community engaged research
  • Identifying social determinants of health and health disparity among LGBTQ people of color, people with serious mental illness, older adults, and people with disabilities in marginalized urban and underserved rural communities
  • Detecting risk and protective health factors for perinatal women, children and families, people exposed to violence, and those with chronic health conditions
  • Determining impact of demographic and epidemiological changes on communities, addressing barriers to accessing and obtaining equitable health care, and tracking the role of technology in treatment

Poverty at the School of Social Work is defined as a state in which individuals, families, and communities lack access to material resources and political, social, and economic opportunities. Our poverty research includes primary and secondary analysis of quantitative and qualitative data to identify multi-level risk/protective factors, determine the impacts of policy interventions, and make science-based practice and policy recommendations. Scholars focus their work locally and internationally in the areas of:

  • Economic Security – Determining the impact of developmental approaches on economic well-being and the long-term employment and earning trajectories of children and families living in poverty
  • Access to Resources – Developing and testing innovative and strategic policy initiatives that increase access to benefits and understanding the ways access to resources effects child and family well-being
  • Health and well-being – Identifying the effects of poverty on health and well-being of individuals and communities

Social Innovation research in the School of Social Work is defined as the use of technology and bottom-up innovation strategies to create new solutions to social problems and transform social systems. Our social innovation research crosses disciplinary boundaries and has a focus on real world impact.  Scholars at the School focus on:

  • Use of advanced mixed reality and virtual reality (VR) software to deliver psychotherapy and health education programming to racial/ethnic minority and vulnerable populations
  • Understanding the impact of volunteerism on sustainable social development
  • Developing and testing new tech-based applications to improve mental health and reduce substance use in the U.S. and internationally
  • Use of technology to deliver behavioral health interventions for older adults
  • Assessing gender, racial, and geographic inequalities in social enterprise and entrepreneurship

Social Work in Schools research at Illinois addresses multiple aspects of education and schooling and focuses on the promotion of just and equitable learning environments. Scholars at the School focus on:

  • Identifying aspects and impacts of structural racism and discriminatory practices, developing and evaluating alternatives to suspension
  • Evaluating the impacts of policy reforms on students, institutions, and communities and the implementation of evidence- based best practices
  • Developing and conducting evaluation at the school, district, and state levels to assess the impact of programming
  • Detecting preventative and risk factors, aspects of the social environment, and social emotional well-being that impact academic achievement
  • The development, implementation, and promotion of prevention, intervention, and remedial strategies and research within schools

Workforce Development is broadly defined by the School of Social Work as the development of community- based infrastructure and dissemination of training and educational models that are responsive to the changing landscape of the profession. Researchers at the School focus on:

  • Designing, implementing, and evaluating curriculum that supports social work education in fields such as substance use disorders, health, behavioral health, child welfare, school social work, leadership and social change, trauma informed practice.
  • We work with partners to develop solutions to address the behavioral and mental health workforce crisis and grow, recruit, and retain a qualified, modern, diverse, and evolving social work workforce
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