The University Record, July 10, 1995

Social Work gets $2.2 million for new center

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

The School of Social Work has received a $2.2 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to establish a Social Work Research Development Center to study the relationship between poverty and mental health.

The new center, which has a theme of "Poverty, Risk and Mental Health," will facilitate research in four core areas:

• The connection between social class and poverty;

• The effects of high-risk environments on the mental health of infants and children;

• Preventive interventions with low-income, high-risk populations; and

• Mental health services for the impoverished.

The Center will bring together teams of scholars from social work, social epidemiology, prevention research, economics, sociology, psychiatry, human development and psychology, says Paula Allen-Meares, dean of the School of Social Work.

"It builds upon Michigan's interdisciplinary tradition and upon the existing strengths of mental health research at the University," she says. "It will advance our understanding of the effects of societal factors on mental health."

Center director Sheldon Danziger, professor of social work and public policy, believes the center will transform the School of Social Work into a focal point for research on poverty, risk and mental health.

"The center will involve extensive participation by doctoral candidates and junior faculty, establish specific and substantial collaborative relationships with U-M mental health researchers, and undertake new pilot research projects and professional development activities that bring together junior faculty with senior scholars in a sustained and meaningful way," he says.

Danziger adds that the Center research will form a bridge between the study of socioeconomic factors that define poverty and the psychological factors that determine mental health.

Among the pilot research to be conducted at the center will be studies on the effects of mental health problems on welfare recipients and long-term dependency, impoverished children's reasoning about violence between peers, and preventive intervention for welfare mothers coping with the stress of finding a job.

Additional projects will include research on the impact of poverty on the mental health of African American children and adolescents; the under-utilization of mental health services by the Hispanic poor; the connection between poverty and other environmental-risk factors on the emotional, social and behavioral development of infants; and supported education for persons with severe mental illness.

In addition to directing the Center, Danziger will serve as its principal investigator. Allen-Meares will chair the center's advisory board and serve as a co-principal investigator with Kristine Siefert, professor of social work and assistant dean of research in the School of Social Work, and Carol Mowbray, associate professor of social work.

Other Center mental health researchers from the U-M include Ronald Kessler, professor of sociology; Richard Price, professor of psychology; and Arnold Sameroff, professor of psychology.