Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil was featured in a Forbes article about President-elect Joe Biden’s plans for improving Medicare, Social Security and other income security policies that will have a large impact on older Americans. Panelists at the 11th annual Journalists in Aging Fellows Program recommended an intergenerational framework to shift the focus from the needs of people over 50 and instead see all issues as aging issues. “What I am suggesting for our generation [of baby boomers] is not only must we be advocates whether it is health security, retirement security, pension reform, protecting Social Security or protecting Medicare and Medicaid, but we must find ways to drill down and begin to represent the interests of younger, emerging, ethnic minority populations,” said Torres-Gil, director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA Luskin. “Otherwise, I fear we may see greater incidents of generational tension, exacerbated by racial and ethnic tensions.”
Social Welfare Professor David Cohen was featured in a Mad in America article summarizing his research findings on psychiatric detentions in the United States. According to Cohen’s research, the rate at which Americans are confined against their will under mental health laws has increased dramatically over the past decade. “This is the most controversial intervention in mental health — you’re deprived of liberty, can be traumatized and then stigmatized — yet no one could tell how often it happens in the United States,” Cohen said. “We saw the lack of data as a social justice issue, as an accountability issue.” He gathered data from court and justice systems, journal articles, state health websites and other sources to fill the gaps in literature. Cohen concluded that “state and private agencies, lay and professional groups, and independent researchers should shed more light on involuntary psychiatric detentions, their correlates and their outcomes.”
Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Amy Ritterbusch is part of an international team of researchers working on child rights and well-being under a grant awarded to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). The multi-country study also includes scholars and activists from Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa and Uganda. “This study will advance current scholarship on two topics related to honor – honor as a factor in sustaining violence against children, and honor as a factor contributing to child well-being through children’s social relationships with family, peers and community,” LSHTM researchers said. Drawing from Ritterbusch’s methodological area of expertise, the research will use child-led participatory approaches that will place children’s voices and experiences at the center of the initiative and that will lead adult researchers toward community-driven solutions to violence in their daily lives. Ritterbusch serves as principal investigator of the Uganda country component of the project. “It continues my work on mobilizing street-level solutions to violence against children in the urban margins of Uganda, including a continuation of child-led advocacy against the multiple forms of police brutality that street-connected children and adolescents experience,” she said. Ritterbusch, a human and urban geographer, has led social-justice-oriented participatory action research initiatives with street-connected communities in Colombia and Uganda. “As part of the team of principal investigators, I will collectively lead the Uganda site of this multi-country study with the street-connected youth researchers I have been working with since 2015 in Kampala,” Ritterbusch said.
“The convergence of stress from the pandemic with increased firearm and alcohol sales creates a hazardous situation for those at risk of suicide,” cautioned Professor of Social Welfare Mark S. Kaplan, co-author of a correspondence in the latest volume of The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Kaplan and a team of researchers from around the United States responded to recent research suggesting an increase in alcohol-related suicides due to the economic decline related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Noting previous co-authored research, Kaplan and his colleagues wrote that “alcohol ingestion itself (and especially acute alcohol intoxication) might be a key risk factor for suicide during and shortly after economic contractions.” The unemployment rate during the current pandemic could exceed that of the Great Depression of the 1930s, especially among socially disadvantaged groups, they point out in the journal published by the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. “Particularly relevant to the economic contraction related to COVID-19, we found that suicide rates were most closely associated with rising poverty. These findings suggest that more than individual-level economic factors are at play in influencing suicide risk; place-level economic shocks also matter,” they noted. Kaplan and his team cite the increase of alcohol sales during a time of physical distancing when people may be becoming intoxicated in isolation. They also noted that the current situation could provide opportunities for suicide prevention. Experts in the field suggest increasing alcohol taxes, limiting times for alcohol sales, reducing the density of alcohol outlets and increasing access to treatment for people with substance use disorders.
By Stan Paul
Faculty hires in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Urban Planning for the new academic year bring a wealth of new research and teaching, reinforcing the School’s commitment to the health and well-being of individuals and communities.
Assistant Professor Brian Keum has joined Social Welfare. His general research emphasizes the reduction of health and mental health disparities among marginalized identities and communities. In particular, Keum studies the impact of online racism – and online racial violence – on psychosocial outcomes and health disparities. Drawing on his clinical experience, he looks at mental health issues, offline attitudinal and behavioral changes, and risky health behaviors that include substance abuse. A second area of his research is Asian American mental health, as well as multicultural and social justice issues that relate to how mental health counseling is provided.
“As a scientist-practitioner, I am excited to teach both practice and research courses,” said Keum, who will be offering graduate instruction in advanced social work practice and applied statistics in social work.
Judith Perrigo, an infant and early childhood mental health specialist, is also an assistant professor of social welfare. Amid the unusual circumstances of this academic year, Perrigo looks forward to exploring innovative teaching methods while providing meaningful learning experiences in both foundational and advanced social welfare practice courses. This includes sharing some of her recent research on how parents of low socioeconomic status with children in grades 3 to 6 are coping with the unexpected educational demands during the pandemic.
“Our findings suggest that the closure of schools and stay-at-home orders initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing parental involvement challenges,“ Perrigo explained, noting that families of lower socioeconomic status were more negatively impacted because they “had fewer affordances to buffer the new stressors.”
Perrigo draws from her personal background as a Salvadoran immigrant and 15 years of applied clinical work with children and families to inform her scholarship. Specifically, her research focuses on the well-being of young children — birth to 5 years old — with emphasis on holistic and transdisciplinary prevention and early intervention initiatives with underserved, vulnerable and marginalized populations.
José Loya joins Urban Planning as an assistant professor after recently completing his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. At UCLA Luskin he will teach quantitative analysis in urban planning and a seminar on Latino urban issues in the spring.
“My research focuses on ethno-racial disparities in the mortgage market, before, during and after the Great Recession. More generally, I am interested in the barriers minorities face in the homeownership market,” said Loya, who is also a faculty associate at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.
“I am excited to join UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and working and engaging our students in the community,” added Loya, who worked for several years in positions related to community development and affordable housing in South Florida. He then earned a master’s in statistics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. “I’ve already moved to Los Angeles, so I’ll be here locally even if courses are online,” Loya said.
Kirsten Schwarz, who holds a joint appointment as an associate professor of urban planning and environmental health sciences, started at UCLA by co-teaching policy analysis for environmental health science in the spring 2020 quarter.
“Virtually teaching my first class during a global pandemic and social uprising was not how I expected to kick off my career at UCLA,” Schwarz said. “But I was so impressed, and encouraged by, the flexibility, compassion and integrity that the students brought to the experience. It was certainly memorable.”
Schwarz is an urban ecologist working at the interface of environment, equity and health. Her research focuses on environmental hazards and amenities in cities and how their distribution impacts minoritized communities. She recently led an interdisciplinary team through a community-engaged green infrastructure design that integrated participatory design and place-based solutions to achieve desired ecosystem services.
“I’m interested in connecting those areas right between urban planning and environmental health sciences,” said Schwarz, whose work on lead-contaminated soils has helped document how bio-geophysical and social variables relate to the spatial patterning of lead in soils.
Most recently she received a transdisciplinary research acceleration grant from UCLA’s Office of Research and Creative Activities in conjunction with Jennifer Jay, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Their proposal, “Multimedia Assessment of Children’s Lead Exposure in Los Angeles,” will involve work with graduate students in Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Schwarz also has expertise in science communication and in engaging communities in the co-production of science. She has been recognized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which named her a 2018-2019 Fellow in the Leshner Leadership Institute in the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. Prior to
joining UCLA, she was an associate professor of environmental science at Northern Kentucky University, where she directed the Ecological Stewardship Institute.
Several other faculty searches have been completed, with four additional faculty members set to join Social Welfare and Urban Planning in the coming year. Those new additions include Adam Millard-Ball, who will arrive in January as an associate professor of urban planning, coming from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Millard-Ball holds a doctorate from Stanford University’s School of Earth Sciences and was selected in the urban data science search. He studies environmental economics and transportation, “adding to our strengths in those fields,” said Dean Gary Segura in a memo announcing his appointment.
Mark Vestal, also starting in January, was selected as an assistant professor by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in a search on critical Black urbanism, Segura announced. A historian by training, Vestal’s work looks at the history of discriminatory planning and housing policy in Los Angeles and beyond.
Fall 2021 newcomers will include Margaret “Maggie” Thomas in Social Welfare and Veronica Terriquez in Urban Planning.
Thomas is a scholar of family and child well-being and is completing her Ph.D. in social work at Boston University this year. She previously earned an MSW degree from the University of Illinois. Her work focuses on young children in families facing serious economic hardship, as well as children and youth from minority communities and with LGBTQ identities.
Terriquez has been jointly appointed to Urban Planning and UCLA’s Department of Chicano Studies where she will take on the leadership of the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. Terriquez, who earned a Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA, returns to the Westwood campus from UC Santa Cruz. Her work is principally focused on youth and young adult social development, leadership and intergroup relations, and how they are affected by various public policies.
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 induction address.
- 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.
Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award — the university’s highest honor for teaching — at an Oct. 15 ceremony at the Chancellor’s Residence.
Leap joined eight other faculty members and five teaching assistants who were recognized for their impact on students, innovative teaching methods and involvement in the community.
“Jorja was recognized for her engaging teaching which motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “We are deeply proud of her efforts.”
Leap, who joined the UCLA faculty in 1992, was nominated by her social welfare colleagues, who invited former students and community partners to offer letters of support. “The response was tremendous,” said Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare.
In a video tribute aired at the ceremony, Leap said her teaching philosophy revolves around this principle: To those whom much is given much is required.
Leap said she reminds students that, whatever path led them to UCLA, they now have access to world-class resources, teaching and often financial support. They must pay that forward by making their work relevant in the communities surrounding them, she said.
“In my research methodology course, I will take my doctoral students out in the community … to observe the way people live. And then we talk about how does their research inform policy, how does it move the needle? How does their research inform practice, how does it change the way people treat each other, how does it change our laws, how does it change our healthcare, how does it change economics?” she said.
She counsels her students, “Don’t do the easy thing; do the hard thing. Don’t do what’s natural; do what feels scary.”
Leap is executive director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute.
Her research examines gangs, high-risk youth, prison culture and the reentry of the formerly incarcerated into mainstream society. She also serves as an expert witness on gangs and trauma for death penalty cases and other court proceedings.
Come join Professor Ian Holloway, Doctoral Program Chair, for an informal information session. He will give an overview of the program and introduce Social Welfare faculty, current doctoral students and staff.
Current students, faculty and staff who are interested in attending this event should contact Professor Holloway directly.