Featured Student Research

There are many opportunities for PhD students to engage in research, as well as receive funding for their projects. Students may obtain the Dissertation Completion Fellowship and the Research Scholars Fellowship, which funds independent research projects during the summer. They also have the opportunity to conduct a research project as part of a team in our research practicum sequence courses, SW 911 and 912. Finally, students may take the initiative to work together with peers to conduct independent research.

Social Workers’ Knowledge, Attitudes & Self-Efficacy Related to Opioids and Opioid Users

Jennifer Allen, Monaca Eaton, Abbie Nelson & Joe Wager

Jennifer AllenMonaca EatonAbbie NelsonJoe Wager

The Council on Social Work Education asserts that social work is a vital workforce to address the opioid crisis. In this study, we sent a cross-sectional online survey to current licensed Master’s level social workers in the State of Michigan during the summer of 2020. 181 social workers accessed the survey. Variables we examined included attitudes of social workers toward opioid use disorder patients; knowledge of opioid overdose; self-efficacy to provide treatment to substance users; and education experience related to opioid knowledge.

Each member of our research team conducted our own analyses on research questions of interest using linear regression analyses. Monaca found that the sample had a high level of substance abuse education and that formal opioid learning experiences significantly predicted social workers’ readiness and competence to intervene in an opioid overdose. Joe found that personal experience with opioid users significantly predicted one’s competency to intervene in an opioid overdose but it did not predict one’s readiness. Abbie found that personal experience with opioid users positively predicted one’s attitudes toward clients with opioid use disorder. Jennifer found that more negative attitudes toward opioid users was related to lower perceived self-efficacy related to specific addiction counseling skills. From this project, we have each drafted a first draft of an article for potential future publication.

A Good Call?: Contextual Factors Influencing Mandated Reporting in Domestic Violence Programs

Melanie Carlson Erik WittrupDuring the PhD Research Practicum sequence PhD students Melanie Carlson and Erik Wittrup conceptualized and conducted an original research study, which was published in a special issue of the Journal of Family Violence. Their publication, “A Good Call? Contextual factors influencing mandated reporting in domestic violence programs” analyzes factors that contribute to advocates deciding to report survivors for child abuse and neglect. The entire research project was guided by professors Dr. Carrie Moylan and Dr. Daniel Vélez Ortiz, who facilitated the application of coursework from across the PhD program into a "real world" study. The study involved collecting 142 advocate responses through a statewide survey.

Other studies have found that increased reports of child abuse and neglect do not increase substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect. Therefore, reporting everything because of a mandate may make advocates consider their liability first over survivors’ needs, as well as clog the child welfare system with cases that won’t be substantiated. The results revealed that advocates who holistically approach reporting often consider how filing a report could harm survivors when they are seeking help and safety. The authors also found that advocates who have a good relationship with CPS correlate with increased reporting. The implications of this study are the importance that survivors can trust that seeking help will not have unintended consequences, while advocates who have a good relationship with CPS could increase cross-discipline collaboration

The subject matter for the study evolved from Melanie's experience working in domestic violence shelters and Erik's experience working in CPS. Melanie and Erik realized that their respective social work practice experiences were often rife with tensions between their respective practice areas. The authors hope this study is a stepping stone in creating reporting policies that consider the intersectional needs of domestic violence survivors, as well as increase interdisciplinary collaboration between domestic violence agencies and CPS.

Needs of IPV Survivors with Intersecting Identities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Abbie Nelson, LCSW

Abbie NelsonBackground Rationale 

The impact of the worldwide pandemic, COVID-19 has led to unique challenges and needs for Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) survivors. Examples are abusive partners using COVID-19 to isolate and create fear in the relationship (Fonrouge & Musumeci, 2020), difficulty accessing medical and mental health resources, and lack of shelter (Godin, 2020). In addition, populations with intersecting identities of undocumented status, pregnant, and homeless may be facing even more challenges than those already faced as a survivor of IPV. The aim of this paper is to explain a second round of analysis from a larger COVID qualitative case study, using a humanizing lens specifically exploring needs and copings skills of undocumented, pregnant, and homeless, IPV survivors. The revised research question was: What were the needs of IPV survivors belonging to undocumented, pregnant, and homeless populations during the Covid-19 pandemic, and what coping skills did they use to navigate these needs through the lens of providers?


A qualitative case study design was utilized for this project. A purposive sample of 16 providers of domestic violence services was gathered using a snowball sampling approach. Providers that worked with survivors and not the survivors themselves were chosen, as the survivors may still have been in the midst of a dangerous situations. Interviews were conducted using a semi structured interview questionnaire electronically using MSU Zoom technology between May and July 2020.To be included in an interview, the provider must have been working in the field of domestic violence for at least a year and worked directly with IPV survivors during the time frame of March 2020 to May 2020. The analysis was designed using San Pedro and Kinloch’s (2017) framework on Projects in Humanization (PIH) and Tuck's (2009) desire-based framework.  This project fits that framework as it is centered on relationships with providers that were not viewed as one-time exchanges, but with the goal of working together with them to hear their stories and reflect back themes that could then be made into suggestions for leading to potential change of how survivors are treated. The strategies of peer support, researcher reflexivity, member checking, and an audit trail were used to increase the trustworthiness of data.


The findings revealed that for each of these vulnerable populations their needs were exacerbated due to COVID. Undocumented populations had continued fear of deportation for reporting abuse, did not have the same access to resources, and experienced issues around working and losing jobs. The intersection between IPV and homelessness was highlighted in the findings with the added concerns of less capacity at shelters and changing policies for COVID safety that made it even more challenging for women to get into shelters and stay. The compound stress of COVID, IPV, and pregnancy created an environment of extra stress on the minds and bodies of pregnant women during this time leading to potential complications for themselves and their babies. Despite the many challenges and needs that survivors with intersecting identities faced during Covid, the providers also highlighted the amazing coping skills and resiliency that they saw in these populations.


For each of the intersecting identities discussed in this paper, there are unique practice and policy implications. With the inability to receive government support, undocumented populations are in need of policies that provide support to them as well as providers that can educate them on their legal protections when reporting abuse. Implications for community organizing to support these populations apply. For those providers working with pregnant survivors of IPV, it is encouraged they are aware of the extra stressors being placed on the women in this time of transition and work to provide extra support and referrals to healthcare providers when needed. This could come in the form of online support groups or use of other technology to reach out to pregnant and other vulnerable populations. There is a dire need for more emergency and transitional housing, with policies that keep residents safe during COVID to ensure that more survivors and their families do not end up without a place to stay. Social work students, researchers, and clinicians can use these results to brainstorm creative ways to meet the needs of vulnerable populations and advocate for lasting policy changes to decrease barriers to services. Lastly is the importance of social workers to support and highlight creative and positive coping and resiliency that they are witnessing in survivors despite the huge challenges they are facing.

I feel as if I'm having to choose between my safety and my education”: Social Work Education in Michigan amid the new COVID-19 pandemic.

Jenny Tanis & Leo Kattari

Jenny Tanis Leo KattariThe COVID-19 pandemic has forced many in the United States to work-from-home and shift to online education. The long-term impact of the pandemic on social work education is unknown as many institutions rolled out varying plans for the Fall 2020 semester and beyond. This study aims to better understand how social work education communities are adapting to uncertainty and the disruptive effects of COVID-19 by answering the following research questions: 1) How do social work student and faculty demographics influence basic psychological needs satisfaction, resilience, and COVID-19 risk? 1a) How does basic psychological needs satisfaction influence resilience? 2) What do social work students and faculty need to experience safety and readiness regarding in-person learning? A cross-sectional survey was conducted in August 2020 with a convenience sample (N=226) of students and faculty from CSWE accredited social work programs in a Midwest state.

The questionnaire consisted of demographic questions, the 6-item Brief Resilience Scale (BRS), the 21-item Basic Psychological Needs Satisfaction General Survey (BNSG-S), and Likert-scale and open-ended questions that address health risks related to COVID-19 and specific concerns regarding a return to F2F instruction. Independent samples t-tests and Pearson correlations were conducted using SPSS version 27. Both students and faculty reported not feeling safe or ready to return to F2F instruction. Students reported being less likely to have their basic needs met across all domains compared to faculty. LGBQ+ respondents scored lower in the basic need of competence compared to heterosexual peers. Similarly, transgender and gender diverse (TGD) respondents scored lower in the basic need of competence compared to cisgender men. LGBQ+ respondents were less likely to report feeling ready or safe returning to F2F instruction compared to their heterosexual peers. TGD respondents were less likely to feel safe returning to F2F instruction compared to cisgender men. Those at a personally high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 were less likely to report feeling safe returning to F2F instruction.

Additionally, those that reported following federal safety guidelines were less likely to feel safe or ready to return to F2F instruction and more likely to express the need for specific safety measures implemented within the classroom. The results of this study indicate that social work program administrators must consider the risk and protective factors that may vary upon diverse groups of students and faculty while deciding how to proceed with future course instruction during the pandemic, centering the needs of the most vulnerable.

Faculty Supervisor: Hyunkag Cho. Funded by the College of Social Science: $3,000 for Summer/Fall 2020.

The Influence of Family Drug Treatment Courts on Sustaining Sobriety and Reducing Child Maltreatment: A Pilot Study

Erik Wittrup

Erik Wittrup

This pilot study is an exploratory analysis aimed at examining the influence of Family Dependency Treatment Court (FDTC) programs on sustaining sobriety and reducing child maltreatment post-program participation from the perspective of participants. In this qualitative study, data from observations of the FDTC proceedings as well as in-depth semi-structured interviews were collected from current and former FDTC participants from moderate-sized counties in a Midwestern state. In order to assess how FDTC participation influences the experiences of sobriety and child maltreatment during and following program completion, ongoing thematic analysis of the transcribed interviews and observation notes is being conducted using Atlas. Findings from the study will be used to help inform court staff and community recovery programs. Faculty supervisor: Anna Maria Santiago. Funded by the Summer Research Fellowship, School of Social Work: $5,000 for summer 2017.