Abrams Wins Prize for Book on Incarcerated Youth Award is one of several Social Welfare accomplishments highlighted at annual conference

Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams’ book on the complex lives of youth who transition out of Los Angeles’ juvenile justice system and into adulthood has received the 2020 Society for Social Work and Research Book Award.

Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth” was recognized for its outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge and resolution of social problems.

Abrams and her co-author, triple Bruin Diane Terry BA ’02 MSW ’04 PhD ’12, received the prestigious award Jan. 18 during the annual conference of the Society for Social Work and Research in Washington, D.C.

This year’s conference highlighted several achievements by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare:

  • MSW students and faculty conducted a roundtable on their experiences providing legal assistance to migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. After a week interviewing women and children held at a detention center in Dilley, Texas, the team created a set of tools for other advocates who are trying to help migrants who have faced trauma.
  • Abrams was formally inducted into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, a national honor society recognizing excellence in the field. Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, a member of the academy since 2017, delivered the address welcoming new fellows.
  • Maggie Thomas, who will join the Social Welfare faculty as an assistant professor in the fall, received the 2020 Doctoral Fellows Award for her dissertation, “Material Hardship, Public Assistance and Child Wellbeing: A Panel Data Study.”
  • Research by eight faculty, 12 Ph.D. students and four MSW students or recent graduates was presented during the five-day conference’s symposia, workshops, roundtables, and paper and poster presentations.

 

School Safety Expert Is Among 4 New Faculty Additions

By Stan Paul

Three new faculty members in social welfare and one in urban planning joined UCLA Luskin as of the fall quarter.

They bring to 19 the total number of new faculty added during the tenure of Dean Gary Segura to UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its undergraduate major.

Joining social welfare: Professor Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence; Assistant Professor Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Assistant Professor Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.

New to urban planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in Global South cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.

Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.

Astor holds the Marjory Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use and teacher/child violence. His most recent co-authored book on the subject, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” was published last January.

“Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, whose first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”

His research is cross-cultural and makes comparisons between the United States and other places, including such countries as Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.

“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”

Astor is a Southern California native who came to UCLA after a long research and teaching appointment at the University of Michigan and, more recently, at USC.

A Passion for Diversity UCLA Luskin showcases its programs — and its people — who are pushing for all voices to be heard on issues of public concern

By Les Dunseith

The social justice ethos and commitment to diversity that form the backbone of UCLA Luskin’s graduate degree programs were front and center during the fourth annual Diversity Fair.

Dozens of graduate student recruits came to campus in November for a full day of discussions and workshops. Key speakers included Dean Gary Segura and the chairs of each graduate department: JR DeShazo of Public Policy, Laura Abrams of Social Welfare and Vinit Mukhija of Urban Planning, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion during which six alumni talked about why they chose UCLA Luskin and offered insightful advice about how the graduate school experience can help people with a passion for change figure out ways to turn their ideals into action.

“How do governments create safe spaces for immigrants? How do we improve the basic services that government provides so that it actually fits the needs of the people who are using them? All of those things were in my mind as I started the program,” said Estafanía Zavala MPP ’18, who is now project lead, digital engagement, for the city of Long Beach. “I feel like the program really helped me gain a good understanding of what was actually going on in the world and how to process it.”

Taylor Holland MURP ’19, assistant project manager at PATH Ventures, a nonprofit agency that works with the homeless population in Los Angeles, said that she chose UCLA in part because of its vast alumni network in Southern California. She said she met “great alumni by coming to events like this. We have super-active alumni who you can really tell are pushing for change in different systems throughout urban planning.”

Several panelists said that UCLA Luskin helped them to further develop a social justice perspective, and they talked about their own efforts to foster inclusiveness.

Ulises Ramirez MSW ’96 is a clinical social worker and therapist in the Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and he said that mental health service protocols are too often developed only with English-speaking clients in mind.

“The community that we serve at Harbor UCLA is very diverse. We see a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and my goal there has been to provide top treatment to monolingual, Spanish-speaking clients,” Ramirez said. “It’s an underserved population, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Christina Hernández MSW ’17, community accompaniment coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants in Santa Monica, said her clients come from immigration detention centers.

“They are asylum-seekers; they’re refugees; they’re immigrants. These are people coming from all over the world,” she said. “Our goal is that the documents that we have for English speakers, we also make available for other languages as well.”

The speakers noted that racial minorities and women have traditionally been underrepresented in some of their fields.

“I think our perspectives as folks of color are so important in transportation planning,” said Carolyn “Caro” Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Los Angeles and now works as a planning consultant. She makes an extra effort to encourage minorities to pursue planning careers.

“If you ever need anything, hit me up,” Vera told the prospective students of color in attendance at the Diversity Fair. “It’s hard to get into the field. It’s daunting. But we need you in that field.”

Wajenda Chambeshi MPP ’16, a program manager for the city of Los Angeles, noted that a lack of diversity in some professions starts with decisions by young people from minority communities about which courses of study to pursue.

“Some of these professions that we overlook make really, really important decisions about where funds are going to be allocated, how they are going to be allocated and, ultimately, who receives what. That’s why we need diversity,” Chambeshi said, “so when we graduate, we will be able to filter into those positions that are able to divert resources — or even just rethink how we think about planning and public policy.”

As “the housing person on this panel,” Holland talked about the ethnic component of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

“We have 60,000 people on the streets in L.A. on any given night, and it’s largely a black crisis. We have 9 percent of the city that is black; 40 percent of our homeless population is black,” she said.

Holland said her focus is on chronically homeless people, many of whom are people of color.

“They are … people who have been forgotten about in every aspect of their lives and cannot be pulled up by their bootstraps. Looking at social justice and housing — it’s particularly in a crisis in L.A. right now,” she said, directing her attention to the prospective students of color in the audience. “And we need all of you guys to help out as you can.”

The alumni panelists spoke passionately about the advantages of being actively involved as students, and they urged attendees to build expansive personal and professional networks.

Vera said she battled depression during her time as a UCLA student and suffered a panic attack during an exam that threatened her opportunity to graduate. But friends helped her through.

“Always advocate for yourself. Create peer networks and check in on each other,” she said.

Noting that the pressures of academic life can be especially difficult for first-generation college students from disadvantaged populations such as herself, she continued: “You are more prone to having depression and anxiety when you come into a program that just doesn’t look like what you are accustomed to.”

Building a network as a student was important to Ramirez as well. He cited his involvement in the Latinx Caucus as a particularly beneficial connection, “and 23 years later, we still get together.”

Hernandez echoed those experiences.

“I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants, and navigating these spaces was very difficult for me,” she said. “So networks were a lifesaver.”

Hernandez ticked off the names of UCLA faculty and staff members who helped her as a student and remain close. “It was amazing to have people who look like me, Latinos, as advisors and as supervisors, who I could go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m stuck with this issue.’”

She continued: “That is the beauty of joining this school. Even after you graduate, you still have folks who are going to be there to support you regardless of the situation.”

View more images from the event on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2019

Abrams Elected to American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Social Welfare Chair will be the first woman from UCLA to be inducted into the national honor society

By Zoe Day

Professor Laura S. Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, has been named a fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), a prestigious national society honoring excellence in the research and practice of social work.

Abrams will be the first woman from UCLA to be inducted into the academy, which currently recognizes 140 fellows.

“Entering my 20th year as a professor, I am honored to be included as a member of the AASWSW,” said Abrams, whose research broadly focuses on improving the well-being of youth and young adults with histories of incarceration.

“I hope to work with AASWSW to advance social work’s unique lens in addressing social inequities and injustices,” she said.

Established in 2010, the academy’s mission is to recognize and encourage premier scholars, practitioners and outstanding leaders in the social welfare field whose work contributes to a sustainable and equitable future.

The academy is the sponsoring organization for the Social Work Grand Challenges, an initiative to use science to champion social progress, and aims to influence policy by serving as a source of information for the social work profession.

Abrams joins UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an internationally recognized expert on school safety, who was inducted into the academy in 2017.

“Being a member of the academy is the highest honor the profession can bestow on a scholar,” Astor said. “This is a great honor that is very well-earned.”

Election of fellows into the academy is by confidential nomination and confirmation by a supermajority of academy members. Abrams will be inducted at the Society for Social Work and Research conference in Washington, D.C., in January. Astor will give the induction speech at the conference.

Other fellows from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare include Distinguished Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Kirk (2010), Professor Emeritus James Lubben (2011), Professor Emeritus Robert Schilling (2011) and Professor Emeritus Yeheskel “Zeke” Hasenfeld (2013).

In addition to numerous peer-reviewed articles, Abrams is the co-author of two ethnographic books, including: “Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C” and “Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth.”

Abrams has contributed to the larger social work profession by serving on the editorial boards of Social Service Review, Qualitative Social Work and the International Journal of Social Welfare. She is former vice-chair of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work and former board-member-at-large for the Society for Social Work and Research.

Social Workers Key to New Era of Juvenile Justice, Abrams Says

Professor of social welfare Laura Abrams was featured in a Social Work Today article about the role of social work in the U.S. juvenile justice system. Over the last half-century, the U.S. has favored a system of punishment that made it easier for juveniles to be treated as adults. But Abrams sees a new era unfolding with a wave of 21st century reforms that prioritize the protection of children’s rights and support for youth and families. “Social workers should care about juvenile justice reform because we need to restore our rightful place with youth who have been in contact with the law,” she said. She encouraged social workers to stay informed about the issues, become aware of local initiatives and connect with advocacy groups to advance the cause of juvenile justice reform. “We can’t consider [reform] done, even though a lot of progress has been made,” Abrams said.


UCLA Luskin Welcomes 4 New Faculty for Fall 2019 Expertise of new additions includes school violence and bullying, race, immigrant health and law, and the politics of development in Latin America

By Stan Paul

Four new faculty members – three in Social Welfare and one in Urban Planning – have joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, expanding teaching and deepening research expertise in some of the School’s top-rated programs.

They add to the recent faculty expansion of six new hires in 2016 and nine last year, spread across UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its new undergraduate major.

Joining Social Welfare: Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence whose appointment was previously reported; Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration, and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.

Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.

New to Urban Planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in global south cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.

“Veronica is a big addition to our work on global cities and environmental issues in urban centers,” said Dean Gary Segura, highlighting Herrera’s work on Latin America in his announcement to the school.

Herrera, author of the award-winning 2017 book Water and Politics: Clientelism and Reform in Urban Mexico,” said she will offer an undergraduate course on the politics of water and a graduate course on urban politics, both concentrating on the global south.

The new assistant professor previously taught in the political science department at the University of Connecticut and earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, where she said she fell in love with California.

“It’s wonderful to be back. I am looking forward to working with folks at UCLA who are interested in sustainability, urban political change and development,” she said. Citing issues including water stress and trash crises, Herrera said she is looking forward to connecting topics she is studying in Latin American cities to “how they are unfolding in L.A.”

“We are spoiled in L.A. with amazing food, weather and beaches, but from an environmental standpoint there is a lot of work to be done,” Herrera said.

 Astor holds the Marjory Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use, and teacher/child violence, which are addressed in his most recent co-authored book, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” published in January 2019.

Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, who, along with his colleagues, launched the first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”

“And, because we do cross-cultural work, there’s a lot of interesting cultural comparisons within the United States but also between the United States and other places,” said Astor, whose work abroad has included Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.

“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”

For Cindy Sangalang, Southern California is home. Born and raised in Long Beach, she earned her MSW degree, in 2006, and Ph.D. in Social Welfare, in 2012, at UCLA Luskin. She returns to UCLA following faculty positions in the schools of social work at Arizona State University and California State University, Los Angeles.

Sangalang’s work “fills a critical need in our work on mental health and family function, particularly in East Asian and Southeast Asian communities in the United States,” Abrams noted.

“I look at factors tied to race, migration and culture — how those factors intersect and interplay to shape different health outcomes among immigrant populations. That work really derives from years working alongside Southeast Asian communities here in Southern California,” Sangalang said. And, she explained, “When I say Southeast Asian, primarily communities that migrated from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos that were forced to migrate to the United States as a result of U.S. war in Southeast Asia.”

When students ask about her own professional “origin story,” Sangalang said she starts with her family.

“My parents immigrated from the Philippines many, many years ago, and I think coming from an immigrant family with humble beginnings really set a seed in me to be able to connect with others who are tied to that immigrant experience,” said Sangalang, who is teaching courses offered by Social Welfare and Asian American Studies in the fall quarter.

Sangalang said her appointment at UCLA “marries my passions and my interests in a really wonderful way. This is something that I really would not have even thought would be a possibility, so it is really like this dream job where I get to come back to my alma mater where I earned my MSW and my Ph.D.”

In addition to her appointment with the Department of Asian American Studies in the UCLA College, she will be affiliated with the Asian American Studies Research Center.

Lee Ann Wang comes to UCLA most recently from the University of Washington, Bothell, where she held appointments in law and public policy; women, gender and sexuality studies; and ethnic studies. She also has held visiting posts at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is an expert on legal narratives addressing the intersection of gender, immigration and violence in Asian American communities.

A key aspect of that work is the relationship between protection and punishment.

“Primarily what I look at is a series of pieces of federal legislation that were designed to ‘rescue and save’ immigrant women from gender and sexual violence, but in doing so they expanded terms of punishment that actually reinforce punishment in immigrant communities,” Wang said.

The immersive techniques of ethnographic studies are an important aspect of Wang’s research. For example, she has studied the law through the eyes of legal advocates. She also has engaged with legal service providers who not only played a role in distributing the terms of a law but were also involved in its writing. By conducting ethnographic studies in her work, Wang said her approach to the law involves looking at legal practice through legal advocates as well as service providers who were not only part of distributing the law’s terms but also a part of its own writing. “I’m arguing in part that we actually can’t understand the relationship between immigration law and criminalization without taking gender and sexuality seriously.”

Like her new colleagues, Wang has connections with Los Angeles and Southern California. She spent a number of years in L.A. working for nonprofit agencies before attending graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American culture. Her nonprofit work, also in the San Francisco Bay area and Detroit, included anti-violence, reentry, youth advocacy, mass transit and voting rights. As a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, she was a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at UC Berkeley’s School of Law.

Wang is teaching a Social Welfare graduate course and an undergraduate course in Asian American Studies this year.

Research by Abrams and Barnert Earns Distinction

A study co-authored by Laura Abrams of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Elizabeth Barnert of the Geffen School of Medicine has been honored as a “highly commended paper” by the 2019 Emerald Literati Awards, which recognizes top-quality scholarly research. The study, published in the International Journal of Prisoner Health in 2018, found that children placed in juvenile detention centers, jails or prisons before their teenage years are much more likely to experience serious physical and mental health issues as adults. More than 20 percent of people who had been incarcerated as children reported poor general health in adulthood, compared with 13 percent for those incarcerated later in life and 8 percent for those never incarcerated, Abrams and Barnert found. The research points to a need for targeted health care for those incarcerated at an early age and calls into question the wisdom of detaining the youngest minors in juvenile halls, probation camps and other facilities. Abrams is professor and chair of Social Welfare; Barnert is a medical doctor and assistant professor of pediatrics. Their collaboration bridges the fields of child health and juvenile justice.


 

Taking the Border Crisis to Heart Team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare counsels mothers and children seeking asylum in the United States

Team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare travels to immigrant detention center in Texas to counsel mothers and children seeking asylum in the U.S.

Abrams Publishes Research on Child Incarceration, Adult Health

Professor Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare, recently co-authored an article in Academic Pediatrics investigating the relationship between child incarceration and subsequent adult health outcomes. The United States is the world leader in youth incarceration, and research by Abrams and co-principal investigator Elizabeth Barnert, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, aimed to bridge the data gap on repercussions from child incarceration. The study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to compare adult health outcomes in individuals grouped by age of first incarceration. The study compared individuals first incarcerated before age 14 with those first incarcerated at 15-17 years old, 18-20 years old and 21-24 years old. Among the adult health outcomes analyzed were physical health, such as mobility limitations, and mental health, including depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts. After controlling for sociodemographic and ecological factors, the study found that “child incarceration independently predicted adult mobility limitations, adult depression and adult suicidal thoughts,” confirming the link between younger age at first incarceration and worse adult health. The research also identified sociodemographic disparities in child incarceration, finding that “individuals first incarcerated as children were disproportionately of color, more likely to be from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and more likely to have been raised in a single-parent household.” The findings will likely have repercussions in the health arena. The report concluded, “Child incarceration displays even wider sociodemographic disparities than incarceration generally and is associated with even worse adult physical and mental health outcomes.”


How to Help Queer Kids in Foster Care Author Cris Beam shares insights based on extensive research and personal experience in her Luskin Lecture

By Mary Braswell

LGBTQ youth in the foster care system often grapple with rejection, harassment, violence — and their own mistrust of the individuals and institutions charged with protecting them.

Restoring that trust requires taking a hard look at what these youth really need, not just to navigate the child welfare system but to lead rewarding lives.

This was the message shared by Cris Beam — author, educator and herself the foster mom to a transgender young woman — at a UCLA Luskin Lecture on March 5, 2019.

Beam’s talk included many moments of insight and encouragement, even as she described a foster care system that is woefully broken.

“How can we be spending upwards of $22 billion nationally and nobody — not the kids, not the foster parents, not the bio parents, not the administrators, not the policymakers, not the lawyers — nobody thinks this is working?” she asked.

That question sent Beam in pursuit of answers. Her extensive research into the U.S. child welfare system, LGBTQ issues and the power of empathy, as well as her personal experience becoming a foster parent at age 28, led her to a solution that is both simple and daunting.

What kids in foster care need, she said, is what all kids need: lasting human relationships, whether biological, adoptive or built from scratch with “teachers, babysitters, bus drivers” — people who are willing to step up, learn parenting skills and stick around, Beam said.

“The only way a child can succeed is to connect to a family, or even an individual person, for a lifetime. Whether they are gay or straight or bi or trans or otherwise,” she said.

Beam has published several acclaimed fiction and nonfiction books, including “To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care” and “I am J,” the first book with a transgender character to make the state of California’s high school reading list. She is also an assistant professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

Prior to her lecture on “Queer Care: LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura noted that Beam’s work is in line with the School’s mission to “provide a voice for the unheard and change society in ways that help those most in need, including and especially families and children.”

Beam’s appearance at the UCLA Faculty Center fittingly coincided with Social Work Month and the National Day of Empathy, said Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare, which organized the Luskin Lecture.

More than 50 people came to hear Beam’s insights, including students, faculty, lawyers, child psychologists, and current and aspiring social workers. Their questions for Beam revealed frustration at wanting to serve foster youth within a system that often fails them.

“I feel for you because you’ve got so many people,” Beam said of the heavy caseloads many social workers carry. “But if you can stick by somebody and be constant, sometimes you can be that person that is around for someone for years and years. That’s what they need. It’s that human connection.”

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. To illustrate the cycle that many of them enter, Beam shared the experiences of her daughter, Christina, who was 16 when they met at a group home where Beam taught. Christina had been in and out of foster care since age 7, was jumped into a gang as a 12-year-old boy, survived on the streets by doing sex work, then entered the criminal justice system — all as she transitioned into a girl.

The probation officer who approached Beam about fostering Christina said, “‘Don’t worry. She’s already 16. She only has another year until she ages out.’” But Beam quickly learned that Christina needed much more, including “time to heal, to be stable and to trust.” No adoption papers were needed to form a lifelong mother-daughter relationship, she said.

Building this kind of support network should be a priority of child welfare agencies, Beam said. Instead, the system often labels children who suffer complex traumas as difficult, equates foster children with juvenile delinquents, and squanders resources training teens to get a job, write a rent check, survive on their own.

“Really what queer kids need are not more resources, more things, but human beings to rock with them all the way,” Beam said.

View more photos from the lecture on Flickr.