UCLA Luskin Faculty Win Public Impact Research Awards The Office of Research & Creative Activities honors scholars for work that connects the campus to local and global communities

By Manon Snyder

Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, was among six professors to receive the inaugural Public Impact Research Awards from the UCLA Office of Research & Creative Activities.

Established in collaboration with the UCLA Centennial Celebration but put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the awards recognize work that has clear and immediate benefits to local and international communities.

Honorees with a UCLA Luskin connection included Abrams; Dana Cuff, professor of architecture, urban design and urban planning; and Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history, African American studies and urban planning. Public Impact Research Award recipients receive $10,000 prizes.

During an award ceremony on June 1, Abrams recounted the story of how she and her co-author Elizabeth Barnert of the Geffen School of Medicine came to do the research that led to the award.

“We heard a story of a 5-year old child who was prosecuted for a curfew violation, and we set our sights on preventing this from happening again,” Abrams told an audience that included UCLA Luskin benefactor Renee Luskin. “As a social worker and a pediatrician, we were shocked to note that in California, like nearly half of all U.S. states, the law did not shield young children from being brought into the justice system.”

They were told that it would be difficult to change a law that had been on the books since the early days of the child welfare codes. Other researchers dismissed the topic as not particularly important.

“Yet we persisted,” Abrams said.

They conducted a mixed-methods study that showed setting a minimum age at which a child can be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system is not only better for children, but also politically viable. Their research also showed that, starting at younger ages, racial inequities were already problematic, particularly for Black children.

Their once “impossible policy goal” became a reality when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 439 into law in 2018, ensuring that no child under age 12 in the state of California can be legally prosecuted, even in the juvenile justice system, except in very rare circumstances.

View photos from the event:

UCLA Research Impact Awards

Abrams is a professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, and Barnert is an associate professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“I consider this project and the social policy impact to be the most important achievement in my career,” Abrams said. “I hope to inspire future scholars to conduct research that they are passionate about and that makes a difference.”

Advocates have since partnered with Abrams and Barnert to lead other states to pass or consider similar legislation. Thanks to their research, professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, now endorse a minimum age of 12 for juvenile court jurisdiction; their research was also used to draft a congressional bill that would set the minimum age for prosecuting youth in the federal criminal legal system at 12.

“I believe in a healthy and just society where all children have the support they need to thrive,” Barnert said.

OTHER AWARDEES CONNECTED TO UCLA LUSKIN

Cuff, based at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, is founding director of cityLAB, an award-winning research center that studies how urbanism and architecture can contribute to a more just built environment. Based on cityLAB studies, Cuff and her team created the BIHOME — a full-scale demonstration of a compact dwelling unit designed to be located in backyards to meet rising housing demands — and BruinHub, a “home away from home” at the John Wooden Center for commuter and housing-insecure students. Cuff co-authored a 2016 bill to advance the implementation of backyard homes in suburbs, and is working on design and legislation for affordable housing to be co-located with public schools.

“At one of the finest public universities in the world, cityLAB-UCLA and our students at architecture and urban design have the privileged platform to demonstrate how to build a socially just, sustainable future,” Cuff said. “I am committed to design research that brings those new possibilities to the public.”

Lytle Hernández is the Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair in History and faculty director of Million Dollar Hoods, a big-data initiative that uses police and jail records to examine incarceration disparities in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Launched in 2016, the initiative’s research is being used for advocacy and legislative change, such as a report on the Los Angeles School Police Department that helped stop the arrest of children ages 14 and under in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Another report was critical for the passage of California legislation that ended money bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. Beyond using data to support new policies, Million Dollar Hoods uncovers and preserves stories from Los Angeles residents who have dealt with the policing system.

OTHER UCLA HONOREES

Two UCLA faculty members without a UCLA Luskin association were also honored with Public Impact Research Awards:

  • Alex Hall is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the UCLA College, whose research is focused on producing high-resolution projections for climate modeling, particularly in California. Hall extends his expertise beyond campus, working with Los Angeles water management agencies to help ensure the sustainability of water resources for the region. Hall is also working to understand the future of wildfires in the state. He co-founded the Climate and Wildfire Institute to champion collaboration between scientists, stakeholders and policymakers in the use of quantitative data on wildfires to shape management efforts in the western United States.

“We are in the midst of a sustainability crisis, and everyone must do their part to address it,” Hall said. “Nothing makes me happier than marshaling scientific resources to address some of the deepest sustainability challenges in California.”

  • Thomas Smith is a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and founder of the UCLA Congo Basin Institute. As UCLA’s first foreign affiliate branch, the Congo Basin Institute works with organizations and the local government and communities to find solutions to environmental and developmental problems facing Central Africa. Continuing his commitment to conservation efforts in Africa, Smith is the founding president of the Conservation Action Research Network, which has provided more than $500,000 in grants to young African scholars. Smith is also the founding director of UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research, which has conducted research in 45 countries to understand biodiversity in the tropics. He also co-founded the Bird Genoscape Project, which uses genomics to map declining bird populations’ migration patterns and how they can inform where to prioritize conservation efforts.

“With accelerating climate change and loss of biodiversity we are rapidly approaching tipping points for many of the world’s ecosystems,” Smith said. “Our team is making a difference by focusing on science-based solutions to mitigate threats to help save the planet.

School Rises to Top 12 — and Top 10 for Social Work — in U.S. News Graduate Ranking Enhanced reputation is an indicator of ongoing work to meet and exceed high expectations for Luskin School and its Social Welfare programs.

UCLA Luskin’s overall ranking is in the top dozen among public affairs graduate schools in the nation based on the latest U.S. News & World Report ratings released today, including a Top 10 ranking in the social work category.

The School tied with other prestigious programs — Princeton, NYU, Georgetown and Carnegie Mellon at No. 12 and at No. 9 in social work with Case Western Reserve University.

“I am proud of the work that the Luskin School has done and continues to do. This ranking among national public affairs schools is just one indicator of the Luskin School’s continued growth and ongoing work to maintain and exceed our high expectations,” Dean Gary Segura said. “And the leap into the Top 10 for Social Welfare is a gigantic achievement! These reputational enhancements reflection the hard work and the continuing commitment of, and to, our UCLA and UCLA Luskin community, faculty, students, staff and all those that support and contribute to our mission,” he said.

“I am thrilled that our peers have rated us one of the top 10 social work programs in the nation,” said Laura Abrams, chair and professor of social welfare. “In the last five years, we have streamlined our Master of Social Welfare curriculum into three areas of concentration and incorporated several new elements, such as Intergroup Dialogue and the second-year capstone research projects.”

Abrams also noted the recruitment of new faculty members who are doing cutting-edge teaching, scholarship and community-based work.

“Dean Segura has been incredibly supportive of our expansion and increasing our visibility on the national stage. I couldn’t be more pleased to see our MSW program being honored in this way,” Abrams said.

Among public universities, the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare program is now one of the top six nationwide and the top two in California.

The School — with graduate departments in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, and a Public Affairs undergraduate program — also received high marks for subcategories that include urban policy (No. 7), social policy (No. 7), public policy analysis (No. 13) and health policy and management (No. 12).

The 2023 rankings of public affairs programs are published in 2022 based on peer assessment survey results from fall 2021 and early 2022. U.S. News surveyed deans, directors and department chairs representing 270 master’s programs in public affairs and administration, and 298 social work programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Council on Social Work Education. The National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work supplied U.S. News with the lists of accredited social work schools and programs, plus the respondents’ names.

See the full list of the 2023 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools, published today.

Faculty Reported Among Top 2% in Scholarly Citations

Eighteen faculty members affiliated with UCLA Luskin are included in a listing of the top 2% for scholarly citations worldwide in their respective fields as determined by an annual study co-produced by Stanford University researchers. The 2021 report is a publicly available database that identifies more than 100,000 top researchers and includes updates through citation year 2020. The lists and explanations of study methodology can be found on Elsevier BV, and an article about the study was published by PLOS Biology. Separate data sets are available for career-long and single-year impact. The researchers are classified into 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields, with field- and subfield-specific percentiles provided for all researchers who have published at least five papers. The following current and past scholars with a UCLA Luskin connection met the study’s criteria to be included among the most-cited scholars:

Laura Abrams

Ron Avi Astor

Evelyn Blumenberg

Randall Crane

Dana Cuff

Yeheskel Hasenfeld (deceased)

Aurora P. Jackson

Duncan Lindsey

Susanne Lohmann

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Thomas Rice

Ananya Roy

Robert Schilling

Donald Shoup

Michael Storper

Brian Taylor

John Villasenor

Martin Wachs (deceased)


 

Jackson Selected as American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Fellow

Professor Emerita of Social Welfare Aurora Jackson was elected as a 2022 fellow by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. The academy is a prestigious society of distinguished scholars and practitioners dedicated to achieving excellence in the field of social work and social welfare through high-impact work that advances social good. The fellowship program recognizes and celebrates outstanding social work and social welfare research, scholarship and practice. Jackson’s scholarship examines the interrelationships among economic hardship, parental psychological well-being, parenting in the home environment, and child developmental outcomes in families headed by low-income, single-parent mothers with young children. When she is formally inducted with 15 other fellows in January 2022, Jackson will become the second woman from UCLA to join the academy, following the induction of Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams in 2020. Academy fellows are nominated confidentially, then confirmed by a supermajority of current academy members. “Being a member of the academy is the highest honor the profession can bestow on a scholar,” said Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, who was inducted into the academy in 2017. Jackson will contribute to the growing list of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare scholars who have been inducted as academy fellows. In addition to Abrams and Astor, they include Distinguished Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Kirk (2010), Professor Emeritus James Lubben (2011), Professor Emeritus Robert Schilling (2011) and the late Professor Yeheskel “Zeke” Hasenfeld (2013). — Zoe Day


Abrams Book Compiles Global Research on Child Imprisonment

A new book co-edited by Professor Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, seeks to educate students, scholars and policymakers about the role of incarceration in young people’s lives. “The Palgrave International Handbook of Youth Imprisonment” compiles research from dozens of scholars from around the world on cross-cutting themes including the conditions of confinement, gender/sexuality and identity, juvenile facility staff, young people’s experiences in adult prisons, and new models and perspectives on juvenile imprisonment. “Numerous children are imprisoned across the globe in deplorable conditions, despite international legal conventions which suggest that children should be detained only as a last resort,” write Abrams and co-editor Alexandra Cox of the University of Essex. In addition to facing lengthy terms of imprisonment, a substantial number of children are exposed to abuse and violence in custody, poor health and mental health care, and a lack of access to educational, vocational and training opportunities. Some nations, however, have instituted reforms that have greatly decreased the number of children held in confinement. The handbook offers far-flung criminal justice systems the opportunity to learn from one another: “In this volume, we bring together views from a wide variety of countries and contexts to present the most recent cutting-edge research on youth imprisonment that has the potential to shape how the field can create better systems of care for all young people in conflict with the law.”


 

Social Welfare Issues Update About Anti-Racism Efforts

The UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty, students and alumni who joined forces in summer 2020 to craft an Action Plan to Address Anti-Blackness and Racism recently issued a progress report and accompanying video explaining their efforts. The team came together following the killing of George Floyd to examine the curriculum and culture, developing a set of action items to address racial disparities within the department and across the education of social workers. Their new report details progress that has been made so far, including a series of virtual events during the 2020-21 academic year that focused on racial justice and the history of how white supremacy has impacted the practice of social work. The progress report also discusses areas where further progress is needed at UCLA Luskin, such as recruiting more Black faculty members and providing additional funding opportunities to students of color. Read more about the team and their efforts.

Watch the video

Abrams on Harsh Effects of Entangling Children in the Justice System

Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams co-authored two commentaries aimed at galvanizing support for establishing a national minimum age of juvenile justice jurisdiction — an age below which a child cannot be prosecuted in juvenile court. Writing in JAMA Pediatrics and the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Abrams argued that “entangling children in the justice system is harsh and developmentally incongruent with children’s needs.” With co-authors Destiny G. Tolliver of the Yale School of Medicine, Eraka Bath of UCLA Psychiatry and Elizabeth S. Barnert of the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, Abrams called for the establishment of a federal statute establishing a national minimum age of 12 years or higher for juvenile justice jurisdiction. “Child and adolescent psychiatrists should educate others on the psychosocial risks of early juvenile justice involvement, condemn its racist impact and drivers, and bolster family and community supports for youths with behavioral health and social needs,” the authors wrote.


 

‘Halfway Home’ Book Talk Explores the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration

Sociologist Reuben J. Miller shared highlights from his new book on the inequities of the U.S. criminal justice system during a virtual dialogue on March 11, part of the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series at UCLA Luskin. “Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration” is the culmination of Miller’s years of research in Chicago and Detroit, including over 250 interviews with prisoners, former prisoners, and their friends and families. “It takes more than a few hours and a few cups of coffee to learn about a person,” said Miller, explaining that he wanted to move past the caricatures we have learned to embrace. In the second half of the event, Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams moderated a discussion about the repercussions of mass incarceration. Michael Mendoza, director of national advocacy for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, said prison is like a ghost that follows you throughout your life. “The prison-industrial complex doesn’t just punish people physically but emotionally and mentally as people try to get their footing on the ground,” he said. Amada Armenta Ph.D. sociology ’11, associate professor of urban planning, noted the importance of producing research on criminal justice that is accessible for readers in order to facilitate a dialogue. Isaac Bryan MPP ’18, director of the Black Policy Project at UCLA, spoke about making a radical commitment to recognizing the full humanity of people and the role that policy can play in mitigating systems of harm. “This book uplifts voices that need to be heard,” Bryan said. “This book can propel us forward and was made for a moment like this.” — Zoe Day


Abrams Calls for End to Criminalizing Children

Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams co-authored a Washington Post opinion piece on the consequences of criminalizing childhood misbehavior and mental health problems. “Arresting children is counterproductive and unethical,” wrote Abrams and co-author Elizabeth S. Barnert of the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Appearing after the release of video footage showing police in Rochester, N.Y., using pepper spray and handcuffs on a 9-year-old girl, the op-ed called on the United States to set a national minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction of at least 12. Currently, they wrote, “47 states have the power to forcibly arrest elementary-school-age children and do so regularly.” Abrams and Barnert cited their research showing that child incarceration elevates the risk of trauma and abuse, behavioral and mental health problems, and future involvement in the criminal justice system. They also pointed to systemic racism, noting that, compared with white children, Black youths under 12 are 2.5 times more likely to be referred to juvenile court.

Images of Pepper-Sprayed Girl Underscore Urgency of Minimum-Age Laws

Video footage of a 9-year-old girl being handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by police in Rochester, N.Y., has put a spotlight on a key question for policymakers: At what age should a child be shielded from detention, prosecution and incarceration in the criminal justice system? That question is the focus of scholarship by Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams and Elizabeth Barnert, assistant professor of pediatrics at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Their collaborative research at the intersection of child health and juvenile justice has led to data-driven recommendations about the minimum age of criminal responsibility, factoring in brain development, competency and childhood experiences. Abrams and Barnert recently worked with the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) to form a broad coalition of advocates and health professionals working to raise the age at which children can be processed on criminal charges. Internationally, that age is most commonly set at 14; in the United States, more than half of states have no minimum age at all. “Processing and confining children in the juvenile justice system is traumatic and exposes them to damaging collateral consequences,” including disruptions to education, employment, and mental and physical development, argues NJJN, which released a policy platform and other resources on the issue in January. The incident in Rochester, captured on police body cameras and viewed widely, illustrates the urgency of this advocacy, Abrams said. “No child should ever be cuffed or arrested. Period,” she said. “Our work on minimum age laws shows that criminalizing childhood is racist and has adverse outcomes on children’s health.”