The University Record, April 9, 2001

Poverty research center grant renewed

By Nili Tannenbaum
School of Social Work

The School of Social Work recently was awarded $2.7 million in total funding from the National Institute of Mental Health for the Research Development Center on Poverty, Risk and Mental Health. The Center, founded in 1995, is one of eight in the country. It is now one of two to have received continued competitive support for another five-year period. The focus of the Center is to bring mental health research to the attention of poverty researchers and poverty research to the attention of mental health researchers.

The Center is an interdisciplinary unit that involves campuswide collaborators from the School of Social Work, the School of Public Health, the Ford School of Public Policy, the Medical School, LS&A, the Institute for Social Research, and the Center for Human Growth and Development. It is directed by Sheldon Danziger, the Henry J. Meyer Collegiate Professor of Social Work and Public Policy, with Kristine Siefert, professor of social work, and Paula Allen-Meares, dean, School of Social Work, as co-principal investigators. According to Allen-Meares, “Bringing together teams of scholars from different professions and disciplines throughout the campus allows us to build upon the University’s legacy of interdisciplinary interaction and existing areas of strength.”

In the Center’s first five years, selected studies have addressed the effect of mental health problems and other barriers to employment on transition from welfare to work, the role of domestic violence in the lives of poor women, prevention of mental health problems in multi-risk infants, food insecurity and welfare reform, supported education and mental health, and poverty and school violence.

One example of research being conducted within the Center is a project conducted by Siefert and colleagues focusing on social and environmental determinants of maternal and child health. Her findings, which have been presented to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have documented food insufficiency as a modifiable risk factor.

Siefert’s work has shown that ensuring adequate household food supplies can help prevent the onset or recurrence of depressions and other health problems, and has contributed to our recognition of household food insufficiency as a determinant of maternal depression and psychosocial problems in children.