Previous editorials in this journal have noted the importance of expanding the capacity and improving the quality of social work research. Topics discussed in these editorials have addressed the nature and rigor of social work research, interdisciplinary collaboration, and research infrastructure in schools of social work (Fortune, 1999; Jenson, 2005; Proctor, 2002, 2003). Although improvements have occurred in each of these areas, considerable work remains in the quest to increase the impact and status of social work research. A new development in meeting this goal emerged recently with the release of a program announcement from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aimed at advancing social work research (see http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-06-081.html).
NIH SEEKS PROPOSALS FOR EMPIRICAL RESEARCH ON SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
In December 2005, the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) released a program announcement (PA) with three award mechanisms targeting social work research. Research on Social Work Practice and Concepts in Health is a call for proposals to investigate the effects of theoretically and empirically based social work practice on health outcomes for people experiencing medical and behavioral problems (PA-06-081). The PA is the product of efforts led by the Social Work Research Working Group, a team composed of representatives from NIH Institutes and Centers charged by Congress to develop a social work research agenda across NIH. In NIH Plan for Social Work Research (NIH, 2003), the group identified nine recommendations to enhance social work research. One proposed a new initiative by NIH to solicit empirical studies examining the effects of social work services and interventions on medical and behavioral outcomes for people receiving assistance in health care and nonspecialty health care settings (in schools, social services agencies, or correctional facilities, for example).The Research on Social Work Practice and Concepts in Health announcement is an outcome of this recommendation.
This new NIH announcement is important for several reasons. The PA publicly acknowledges the contribution of social work practice to the enhancement and efficacy of medical interventions targeting health problems. Significantly, the language in the PA goes beyond the proposition that social work strategies are mere enhancements to existing services and interventions. The existence of a social work knowledge base that offers unique and significant clinical expertise to interdisciplinary intervention efforts with client groups across multiple systems of care is clearly recognized. Specifically, the PA calls for investigations that apply empirically derived knowledge of efficacious interdisciplinary and coordinated intervention strategies aimed at improving health outcomes. Finally, the initiative seeks to advance sound scientific studies that will develop and test innovative social work approaches to ameliorating adverse health conditions.
The need for at least four types of social work investigations are highlighted in the announcement: (1) studies that assess the effectiveness of existing social work services and interventions on health outcomes; (2) investigations to develop and test the effects of innovative social work interventions on client functioning; (3) proposals that aim to improve health outcomes through interventions delivered in nontraditional health care settings; and (4) studies that examine effective program implementation strategies in communities. The initiative emphasizes collaborative and interdisciplinary projects based on a public health framework. The standard R01, R03, and R21 NIH award mechanisms are identified in the PA.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
The NIH Research on Social Work Practice and Concepts in Health PA gives long-overdue recognition to the unique and shared strengths of social work intervention. In fact, the importance of collaborative work and the critical need to better understand the underlying mechanisms of efficacious medical and behavioral interventions are significant features of the initiative. A clear demonstration of the ability to collaborate with investigators from other disciplines and to apply rigorous scientific principles from a public health framework will be a key component of proposal submissions. The PA affords social work a unique opportunity to build a knowledge base of effective practice strategies for health promotion among diverse client groups.
As many scholars in the profession consider developing NIH proposals, examples and lessons from several currently funded NIH programs and centers may be helpful. Hawkins, Catalano, and colleagues at the University of Washington's Social Development Research Group have used a public health framework based on knowledge of the risk and protective factors associated with adolescent problem behaviors in a series of efficacy trials and longitudinal studies with children and youths. The group's work has led to a community prevention strategy that is being tested under controlled conditions in 24 communities across Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Oregon, Utah, and Washington (Hawkins, 2005; Hawkins & Catalano, 2004; http://depts.washington.edu/sdrg). In addition, Gehlert and colleagues at the University of Chicago created the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research to examine health disparities associated with breast cancer. The center is distinguished by a transdisciplinary approach and philosophy that combines the perspectives of social work, psychology, medicine, and other disciplines in national and international research projects (Gehlert, 2005; http://cihdr.uchicago.edu/Overview/overview.html). Finally, investigators at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work Center for Mental Health Services Research (CMHSR) at Washington University in St. Louis are examining complex mental health service delivery patterns to a variety of vulnerable and at-risk populations under the leadership of Proctor and McMillen (see http://gwbweb.wustl.edu/cmhsr/cmhsr_overview.html). CMHSR builds on more than a decade of pioneering research in the field.
These projects and centers (with apologies to the many that cannot be mentioned here) illustrate the promise of interdisciplinary collaboration, science, and intervention within a larger public health context. Other key aspects of influential research in social work, including progress in creating the infrastructure supports necessary to sustain research, will be examined in future issues.
THE CURRENT ISSUE
Research addressing services and interventions for child, youth, and adult populations is presented in this issue. One study addresses behavior patterns and service needs among people living in rural settings. Shears, Edwards, and Stanley use multilevel modeling techniques to examine the relationship among school bonding, rural residence, and substance use in a sample of junior and senior high school students. Their findings reveal several interesting interactions between a young person's degree of rurality and subsequent substance use. The authors' results reinforce the importance of educational involvement as a protective factor in adolescent substance use.
The thorny problem of handling missing data is the subject of an investigation by Saunders, Morrow-Howell, Spitznagel, Dora, Proctor, and Pescarino. The authors use two established data sets to test six potential approaches to imputing missing data. The concomitant advantages and disadvantages of each method of handling missing data are analyzed. A final set of recommendations derived from the study should prove useful to researchers seeking to apply the most appropriate solutions to the inevitable problem of missing data.
Welfare sanctioning administered through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is the subject of a report by Wu, Cancian, Meyer, and Wallace. The authors use event history analysis to examine sanctioning and the benefit patterns that follow a sanctioning decision in an effort to answer the larger question of whether sanctions are an effective welfare strategy. Their findings reveal a complex set of patterns and outcomes that offer several implications and lingering questions for the field.
In this issue's Instrument Development section, the psychometric properties of the Elementary School Success Profile (ESSP) are examined by Bowen. Items on the new ESSP for Children assess academic performance; behavior; and key neighborhood, school, peer, and family domains in the lives of elementary school students. The test of the instrument reported here reveals strong psychometric properties for 12 factors in five different domains. Designed for elementary school practitioners, the instrument should prove to be a valuable intervention-planning tool for educators.
Articles in the current issue reflect the breadth of substantive topics addressed by social work researchers. The diversity of critical questions analyzed in social work research places the profession in a strong position to develop and conduct interdisciplinary research consistent with the new NIH announcement. Readers, contributing authors, and consulting editors of this journal are among the most active and prolific researchers in the field. I hope many will consider submitting proposals to NIH.
Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research. (2005). Overview and history. Retrieved December 5, 2005, from http://cihdr.uchicago.edu/Overview/overview.html
Center for Mental Health Services Research. (2005). About CMHSR. Retrieved December 5, 2005, from http://gwbweb.wustl.edu/cmhsr/cmhsr_overview.html
Fortune, A. E. (1999). Intervention research [Editorial]. Social Work Research, 23, 2-3.
Gehlert, S. (2005, September 16). Health disparities and doctoral education in social work. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.
Hawkins, J. D. (2005, January 14). Science, social work, prevention: Finding the intersections. Aaron Rosen Lecture at the 2005 Annual Conference of the Society for Social Work and Research, Miami.
Hawkins, J. D., & Catalano, R. F. (2004). Communities That Care[R] prevention strategies guide. South Deerfield, MA: Channing Bete.
Jenson,J. M. (2005). Connecting science to intervention: Advances, challenges, and the promise of evidence-based practice [Editorial]. Social Work Research, 29, 131-135.
National Institutes of Health. (2003). NIH plan for social work research. Bethesda, MD: Author.
National Institutes of Health. (2005). Research on social work practice and concepts in health (PA-06-081). Retrieved December 5, 2005, from http://grantsl.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-06-081.html
Proctor, E. K. (2002). Quality of care and social work research [Editorial]. Social Work Research, 26, 195-197.
Proctor, E. K. (2003). Research to inform the development of social work interventions [Editorial]. Social Work Research, 27, 3-5.
Social Development Research Group. (2005). Focus. Retrieved December 5, 2005, from http://depts.washington.edu/sdrg
Jeffrey M. Jenson, PhD, is professor, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver, 2148 South High Street, Denver, CO 80208; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.…