Special to UM News
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 9, 2015) — Each year domestic violence, mental health disorders, and substance abuse take a significant toll on the welfare of children. Last week, on December 9, the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies’ (SONHS) Center of Excellence for Health Disparities Research: El Centro co-hosted the 9th Annual Miami-Dade Community Based Care Alliance Child Welfare Conference to focus on child welfare and related therapeutic approaches in addressing substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health among children and families interacting with the criminal justice system, many of whom have been affected by intimate partner violence.
The conference theme, “Improving Frontline Practice through Therapeutic Jurisprudence,” aligns with El Centro’s mission to reduce health disparities in the areas of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse, family and intimate partner violence, and associated mental and physical health conditions through research, education, and collaboration with community and academic partners.
SONHS/El Centro faculty members Anthony Roberson and Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda served on the planning committee and presented at the event, which was held on the Coral Gables campus. Approximately 280 child welfare professionals, including judges, case managers, attorneys, court staff, administrators, volunteers, advocates, and mental health professionals, participated, receiving training on how to implement a therapeutic approach in the courts system that considers not only the prescribed legal route, but also the science-based impact that these decisions may have on the therapeutic process and, consequently, on the mental and physical well-being of children involved in the system.
“According to Florida Department of Children and Family statistics, the top three maltreatment areas are domestic violence, mental health disorders, and substance abuse,” said Gonzalez-Guarda, co-director of El Centro’s Community Engagement Dissemination and Implementation (CEDI) Core and a nationally recognized expert on the intersection between intimate partner violence, substance abuse, and mental health disorders. “It is only through synergistic efforts with our community partners, such as happened at today’s event with the Miami-Dade Community Based Care Alliance, that we can bring the best scientific knowledge to bear in addressing the needs of underserved and vulnerable populations on the front lines of practice, including the courts systems.”
El Centro’s CEDI Core aims to serve as a bi-directional bridge for the implementation of evidence-based practices in community systems. In this case, agencies which serve abused, abandoned, and neglected children involved in dependency court were the target population of the daylong seminar.
The concept of Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ) was developed largely in the 1980s by the late University of Miami School of Law professor Bruce Winick in an effort to improve outcomes for children and families and reduce the high recidivism rate in Miami-Dade County’s dependency system.
Roberson, who has conducted extensive research into the intersection of TJ and mental health, especially among youth, said one of the overriding goals of the conference, which was coordinated by El Centro and other community partners, “was to facilitate a dialogue among the various disciplines about the complexities we all face in treating this vulnerable and oftentimes ignored population.
“Identifying the most therapeutic legal approach in addressing the issues of mental health among our youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system will be critical as we move beyond the conference and return to our work with this population,” he said.