KU News Service

KU part of project to train future social workers to recognize domestic abuse

Tue, 02/28/2023

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas is part of a national project to better prepare future social workers to recognize and respond to domestic violence and in turn provide that training to agencies that serve survivors across the country.

KU and other universities have joined Survivor Link, a program funded by AmeriCorps. Students participating in the field practicum portions of their social welfare education receive in-depth training on aspects of domestic violence from experts across the nation. Those students will then in turn partner with agencies to deliver that training to their employees.

Meredith Bagwell-GrayMeredith Bagwell-Gray, assistant professor of social welfare at KU, is site director of Survivor Link at KU and serves as mentor to the first cohort of Jayhawks to take part in the program. 

“One of the things I love about Survivor Link is it focuses on multilevel practice in social work. We work in situations where people and the environment are interacting,” Bagwell-Gray said. “It focuses on capacity building in social work organizations and agencies. They’re helping build confidence and knowledge in agencies and providers who deal with domestic and intimate partner violence.”

Students receive training from experts across the participating universities. In April, Bagwell-Gray, who specializes in sexual and reproductive health in intimate partner violence survivors, will share information on the context of sexual control in relationships in which violence has occurred. Other topics will include housing insecurity and mental health’s roles in domestic violence, helping social workers identify and respond to human trafficking, teen dating abuse in the digital world, addressing adversity and trauma among men with histories of violence, and economic abuse, all within the context of COVID-19.

Participants will also receive two $2,000 stipends to partner with state and local agencies such as nonprofits, public health and health allied organizations. The students will undergo training in understanding violence, assessing risk and using local and agency-specific context to tailor services to meet unique local needs. They will also conduct pre- and post-testing with training participants at agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

Survivor Link and participants are recruiting partners at public health and domestic violence survivor agencies as well as setting such as counseling and mental health facilities, as survivors often reveal their experiences there. Kelly Jones and the School of Social Welfare’s field education office are partnering KU participants with organizations throughout the state. The goal is to cast a wide net to serve as many survivors as possible, because not everyone who experiences domestic violence has the same experience or is able to seek help in the same ways.

“The goal of building capacity in all of these places is to have more support and what we call wraparound support to build larger networks to serve communities,” Bagwell-Gray said.

Additionally, regardless of a social worker's field, they are almost certain to work with someone who has experienced domestic violence at some point, making the ability to recognize and address the issue all the more important, Bagwell-Gray said.

KU will recruit a second cohort of students this spring, as will partner institutions Arizona State University, Ball State University, Case Western Reserve University, North Carolina State University, Simmons University, the University at Albany State of New York, University of Central Florida, University of Louisville, University of North Carolina, University Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, and the universities of Texas-Arlington and Texas-Austin.

“Students are working with their practicum sites to offer trainings in a way that is most useful to them so we can build capacity to better serve survivors together,” Bagwell-Gray said. “We want this to be a true community partnership.”

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