By Ruby Bolaria
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
After a lifetime of work helping the forgotten, abused and incarcerated, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs alum Dr. Ira Arthell Neighbors received the honorable Judge Sol Gothard Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Organization of Forensic Social work (NOFSW).
The award, given to Neighbors earlier this year, recognizes his scholarship, dedication, service and commitment to educating, guiding and mentoring budding new social workers. The award speaks to his vision of using social work to make the world a better, more just place to live for everyone.
Dr. Neighbors graduated with a master's of Social Welfare in 1983. He received the Doctorate in Social Work from Howard University. He served as Dean of Graduate Studies, Associate Dean of the School of Social Work, and he currently teaches social work classes at Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO).
Dr. Neighbors, originally from Watts, was very involved in the civil rights movement and started the first black student union at UCLA. While at UCLA his interest in forensic social work began before he really knew what it was.
“Many social workers do forensic social work but just don’t call it that,” said Neighbors.
Before earning his degree at UCLA, Dr. Neighbors worked as a psychiatric social worker’s aide in a state hospital. After graduating from UCLA, he obtained a California Adult Education Credential and taught an adult literacy course in prison, sparking a lifetime career in teaching and as a forensic social worker.
As a Juvenile Court Investigator, Neighbors says that “social workers conduct interviews and assessments of the different parties in a case – the abused child, the parents, the teachers and many other related individuals. These assessments are then given to the lawyers who use them in the courtroom to substantiate their cases.”
According to Dr. Neighbors, social workers are a critical component in the legal system and providing proper training is imperative. Many social welfare students have field placements in forensic settings but have little training in school before doing field work. Dr. Neighbors developed and taught a forensic social work course at Cal State San Bernardino. This experience helped shape his passion in teaching and preparing the next generation of forensic social workers.
While at San Bernardino, Dr. Neighbors got involved with NOFSW and worked in a number of positions including treasurer, president and counselor. He also started their journal which continues today.
The work Dr. Neighbors and other social workers do is invigorating, fulfilling but can also be draining, as any profession. To keep balanced Dr. Neighbors recently began studying museum art curating. After inheriting several hundred paintings and drawings, he became interested in the field and sees it as his outlet.