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Research projects to address community health and well-being

Posted June 16, 2017
Reported by: Laurie Anderson,

David Okech & Rebecca Matthew
David Okech and Rebecca Matthew

Survivors of human trafficking in West Africa and Latinos in one Georgia county will get more options for help, thanks to research to be conducted over the next two years by faculty at the University of Georgia School of Social Work. The UGA President’s Interdisciplinary Seed Grant Program awarded funding to two social work faculty proposals that address challenges faced by victims of human trafficking in West Africa and Latino residents of Clarke County, Georgia, respectively. The proposals were among 12 chosen from a pool of more than 150 submissions from throughout the university.

“We are very excited about the potential of both of these research projects,” said Anna Scheyett, dean of the School of Social Work. “Though they focus on very different populations, they both combine a grounding in principles of empowerment for vulnerable populations with rigorous science. They are examples of the best of social work research.”

Associate Professor David Okech and partners from five UGA academic units and the University of Ghana were awarded $140,162 over the next two years to identify ways to help female human trafficking survivors reintegrate into West African society. The project will lay the groundwork for testing interventions that have been or are being used to help survivors.

“To date, no evidence-based programs have been developed to facilitate successful reintegration, Okech wrote in the proposal. Researchers will collect data from trafficking survivors, service providers and government offices on factors that facilitate the physical and mental health of survivors and services for survivors in low-income communities. They will use the data to develop a manual that will describe for the first time various interventions, policies and practices that impact trafficking victims in West Africa. The manual also will provide a basis for research proposals to study the efficacy of the interventions.

Assistant Professor Rebecca Matthew and an interdisciplinary team representing eight units across campus were awarded $97,547 to develop a program over 18 months to reduce barriers to health and social services among Latinos in the Athens area. In partnership with a similar, successful program in South Carolina (PASOs), they will recruit and train locally-based Spanish-speaking community outreach workers—or promotores—to provide referrals for healthcare and social services to members of the Latino community in Clarke County. In addition, they will advocate to service providers for culturally-responsive programs and policies for the county’s Latino population. The promotores and team members also will track and gauge successful access to care or services and barriers to participation.

The findings, Matthew and her collaborators wrote in their proposal, will inform the pursuit of external funding opportunities to develop sustainable promotores programs locally and throughout the Southeastern U.S. The program proposal was based on an initial assessment of the local Latino community conducted by UGA’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute and on work that was funded by a seed grant Matthew received from the Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights.

The university's review team selected winning proposals based on demonstrated potential to address key grand challenges and to generate new external funding in the future. Both proposals address the issue of building community health and well-being, one of five grand challenges identified by UGA President Jere Morehead in his 2017 State of the University Address. The review team also considered public service and outreach components of the proposals.

Okech’s colleagues include Nathan Hansen, professor, College of Public Health; Jody Clay-Warner, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor, department of sociology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; Steve Kogan, associate professor, human development and family science, College of Family and Consumer Sciences; John Anarfi, associate professor, University of Ghana Regional Institute of Population Studies; Dr. James Appiah-Pippim, associate professor of medicine, AU/UGA Medical Partnership and Jennifer Elkins, associate professor, School of Social Work.

Matthew’s co-principal investigators are J. Maria Bermudez, associate professor, human development and family science, College of Family and Consumer Sciences; Carolina Darbisi, public service associate and assistant director for research and evaluation, J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, and Pamela Orpinas, professor of health promotion and behavior, College of Public Health. Other contributors include Alejandra Calva, program manager, Latin America and Caribbean Studies Institute, Jennifer Elkins, assistant professor, School of Social Work, Edward Delgado-Romero, professor, counseling and human development services, College of Education; Jason Cade, assistant professor, School of Law; and Henry N. Young, Kroger Associate Professor, clinical and administrative pharmacy, College of Pharmacy.