Leyla Ismayilova, a female-presenting person, smiles towards the camera in a library.

Leyla Ismayilova, PhD

Associate Professor

969 E. 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637


Office Location: E2

Areas of Expertise
Child Welfare and Child Protection
Children and Adolescents
Intervention Programs
Mental Health
Substance Abuse
Violence and Trauma
UChicago Affiliations
Center for Global Health

Leyla Ismayilova is an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. Professor Ismayilova specializes in the development and adaptation of family-based interventions to improve child well-being in the international context and has been involved in international research projects in sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, and the former Soviet Union. Prof. Ismayilova is a member of the World Health Organization/WHO's Guideline Development Group (GDG) for parenting programs to prevent child maltreatment and promote positive development in children aged 0-17 years. Prof. Ismayilova is a Faculty Affiliate of the University of Chicago Center of Global Health and the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies (CEERES).

Her research agenda focuses on developing culturally congruent interventions to improve mental health functioning and reduce risk behaviors (e.g., substance use) and exposure to violence among at-risk children and youth. To address social determinants, Professor Ismayilova is also interested in integrating economic empowerment strategies in mental health preventive interventions with at-risk children and their families. She is the Principal Investigator (PI) on the R01 study funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) under the Global Brain and Nervous System Disorders Research Across the Lifespan initiative. The study is aiming to adapt and test which of the three different evidence-based approaches could better assist children reintegrating from institutions with their families in Azerbaijan:

  1. a multiple family group intervention helping families strengthen their supportive parenting skills and understand the role of trauma in managing child behavioral problems;
  2. screening and linkage to child mental health services, and
  3. an asset-based economic program providing Child Matched Savings Accounts to help their families save for education, housing, or small business start-ups.

The study is using the Multiphase Optimization Strategy (MOST) to compare different intervention components and identify the most optimal combination. She has also served as the PI on a cluster-randomized clinical trial funded by the Network of European Foundations (NEF) evaluating combined economic empowerment and family-focused intervention to prevent violence against children and exploitation of children in ultra-poor communities in Burkina Faso. 

She is also incorporating digital technologies in the delivery of preventive interventions to engage youth and assure intervention fidelity and cost-effectiveness of interventions. Professor Ismayilova has implemented a pilot R34 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The study developed and tested a digital family-based intervention designed to reduce sexual and drug-related risks among at-risk adolescents living in communities highly affected by heroin trade and use in Almaty, Kazakhstan. 

At The Crown Family School she is teaching courses in applied clinical research, global social work, and program evaluation in international settings. She has previously taught at Columbia University and New York University (NYU) Schools of Social Work. In teaching international development classes, she builds on her field experiences ranging from violence prevention programs in war-torn areas of Northern Uganda to child development programs for Iraqi refugees in Jordan. 

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Journal Articles

  • Ismayilova L., Claypool E., Heidorn E. (under review). The trauma of separation: The social and emotional impact of institutionalization on children in a post-Soviet country. Qualitative Health Research.
  • Karimli L., Lecoutere. E., Wells C.R., Ismayilova L. (2021). More assets, more decision-making power? Mediation model in a cluster-randomized controlled trial evaluating the effect of the graduation program on women's empowerment in Burkina Faso. World Development, 137, 105-159.
  • Claypool E., Ismayilova L. (2019). A Gender-Focused Analysis of Structural and Social Precipitators to Child Institutionalization in Azerbaijan: A Qualitative Study. Social Science & Medicine, 232: 262-269. 
  • Ismayilova L., Terlikbayeva A., Rozental Y. (2019). Computerized Intervention to Prevent Drug Use among At-Risk Adolescents in Central Asia: Preliminary Family-Level Findings from a Pilot Mixed Methods Trial. International Journal of Drug Policy, 68:75-85.
  • Ismayilova L., Terlikbayeva A. (2018). Building Competencies to Prevent Youth Substance Use in Kazakhstan: Mixed Methods Findings from a Pilot Family-Focused Multimedia Trial. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63(3):301-312.
  • Ismayilova L., Karimli L., Sanson J., Gaveras E., Nanema R., Tô A., Chaffin J. (2018). Improving mental health and well-being outcomes among ultra-poor children: Two-year results of an open-label, cluster-randomised controlled trial in Burkina Faso. Social Science & Medicine, 208, 180-189 
  • Ismayilova L., Karimli L. (2018). Harsh parenting and child violence among ultra-poor families: A cluster-randomized trial in Francophone West Africa. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 1-18.
  • Karimli L., Rost L., Ismayilova L. (2018). Integrating economic strengthening and family coaching to reduce work-related health hazards among children of poor households: Burkina Faso. Journal of Adolescent Health, Special Issue, Global Perspectives on Economic Strengthening, 62(1):S6–S14
  • Ismayilova L., Karimli L., Gaveras E., Sanson J., Chaffin J., Tô A. (2018). An integrated approach to increasing women’s status and reducing family violence in a West African country: Results of a cluster-randomized controlled trial. Psychology of Violence, 8(4):448-459  
  • Ismayilova L., Gaveras E., Blum A., Tô-Camier A., Nanema R. (2016). Maltreatment and mental health outcomes among ultra-poor children in Burkina Faso: A latent class analysis. PLoS ONE. 11(10): e0164790. 
  • El-Bassel, N., Gilbert, L., Shaw, S. A., Mergenova, G., Terlikbayeva, A., Primbetova, S., Ma, X., Chang, M., Ismayilova, L., Hunt, T. & West, B. (2016). The Silk Road Health Project: How mobility and migration status influence HIV risks among male migrant workers in Central Asia. PloS ONE, 11(3), e0151278.
  • Ismayilova L. (2015). Spousal violence in five transitional countries: A population-based multi-level modeling of individual and contextual risk factors. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), e12-e22.
  • Gilbert, L., Shaw, S., Terlikbayeva, A., McCrimmon, T., Zhussupov, B. & Ismayilova L. (2015). Intimate partner violence and HIV risks among migrant women in Central Asia. Journal of AIDS and Clinical Research, 6(3): 428-436.
  • El-Bassel, N., Shaw, S. A., Mergenova, G., Ismayilova, L., & McCrimmon, T. (2015). Masculinities and social contexts of HIV risk practices among Central Asian male migrant workers. Journal of AIDS & Clinical Research, 6(486), 2.
  • Ismayilova L., Ssewamala F., Huseynli A. (2014) Reforming child institutional care in the Post-Soviet bloc: The potential role of family-based empowerment strategies. Children and Youth Services Review, 47(2):136-148.
  • Ismayilova L., El-Bassel N. (2014). Intimate partner physical and sexual violence and pregnancy outcomes in the three former Soviet Union countries: Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. Violence Against Women, 20(6):633-652.
  • Ismayilova L., Lee H.N., Shaw, S., El-Bassel, N., Gilbert, L., Terlikbayeva, A., Rozental Y. (2014). Mental health and migration: Depression, alcohol abuse, and access to health care among migrants in Central Asia. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 16(6), 1138-1148.
  • El-Bassel N., Gilbert L., Terlikbayeva A., Beyrer C., Wu E., Chang M., Hunt T., Ismayilova L., Shaw S., Primbetova S., Rozental Y., Zhussopov B., Tukeyev M. (2014). Effects of a couple-based intervention to reduce risks for HIV, HCV, and STIs among drug-involved heterosexual couples in Kazakhstan: a randomized controlled trial. JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 67(2), 196-203.
  • El-Bassel, N., Gilbert, L., Terlikbayeva, A., Beyrer, C., Wu, E., Shaw, S., Ma X., Chang M., Hunt T., Ismayilova L., Primbetova, S., Rozental Y. Zhussupov B. (2014). HIV risks among injecting and non-injecting female partners of men who inject drugs in Almaty, Kazakhstan: Implications for HIV prevention, research, and policy. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25(6), 1195-1203.
  • Ismayilova L., El-Bassel N. (2013). Prevalence and correlates of intimate partner violence by type and severity: Population-based studies in Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28(12): 2521 – 2556.
  • El-Bassel, N., Gilbert, L., Terlikbayeva, A., Wu, E., Beyrer, C., Shaw, S., Hunt T., Ma X., Chang M., Ismayilova I., Tukeyev M., Zhussupov B., Rozental Y. (2013). HIV among injection drug users and their intimate partners in Almaty, Kazakhstan. AIDS and Behavior, 17(7), 2490-2500.
  • Alkhasawneh I., Ismayilova L., Seshan V., Olimat H., El-Bassel N. (2013). Predictors of Human Immunodeficiency Virus knowledge among Jordanian youths. SQU Medical Journal, 13(2), pp. 232-240.
  • Ismayilova L., Ssewamala F., Karimli L. (2012). Family support as a mediator of sexual risk taking among orphaned children in rural Uganda. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50(3): 228-235.
  • Ismayilova L., Olimat H. Alkhasawneh I., Shaw S., El-Bassel N., (2012). Depressive symptoms among Jordanian youth: results of a national survey. Community Mental Health Journal, 49(1):133-140.
  • Ismayilova L., Ssewamala F., Mooers E., Nabunya P., Sheshadri S. (2012). Imagining the future: Community Perception of the Family Empowerment Intervention for Orphaned Children in Rural Uganda. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(10): 2042–2051.
  • Janevic T., Pallas SW., Ismayilova L., Bradley EH. (2012). Individual and community level socioeconomic inequalities in contraceptive use in 10 Newly Independent States: a multilevel cross-sectional analysis. International Journal for Equity in Health, 11(1):69.
  • Ssewamala FM, Neilands TB, Waldfogel J., Ismayilova L. (2012). The impact of a comprehensive microfinance intervention on depression levels of AIDS-orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50(4): 346-352.
  • Alkhasawneh I., Ismayilova L., El-Bassel N, Olimat H. (2012). Status of social and behavioral HIV/AIDS research in Jordan: A systematic review. WHO Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, 18(5): 487-494.
  • Karimli L., Ssewamala F., Ismayilova L. (2012). Extended families and perceived caregiver support to AIDS orphans in Rakai district of Uganda. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(7):1351-1358.
  • Ssewamala F., Chung Keun H., Neilands T.B., Ismayilova L., and Sperber E. (2010). The Effect of Economic Assets on Sexual Risk Taking among Orphaned Adolescents in Uganda. American Journal of Public Health, 100(3): 483-488. 
  • Ssewamala FM, Karimli L, Chung Keun H, Ismayilova L. (2010). Social Support, Savings, and Educational Outcomes of Orphaned Adolescents in Sub-­‐Saharan Africa: Prospects for Family-­‐level Economic Strengthening Programs. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(12), 1704-­1710.
  • Guterman N.B., Haj-­‐Yahia M.M., Vorhies V., Ismayilova L., Leshem B. (2010). Help-­‐Seeking and Internal Obstacles to Receiving Support in the Wake of Community Violence Exposure: The Case of Arab and Jewish Adolescents in Israel. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(6): 687-­696.
  • Ssewamala F., Ismayilova L., McKay M., Sperber E., BannonW., Alicea S., (2009). Gender and the Effects of an Economic Empowerment Program on Sexual Risk--Taking among Adolescent Youth in Uganda. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(4): 372-­378.
  • Ssewamala F. and Ismayilova L. (2009). Integrating Children Savings Accounts in the Care and Support of Orphaned Adolescents in Rural Uganda. Social Service Review, 83(3): 453-­472.
  • Ssewamala F., Bannon W., Alicea S., Ismayilova L. (2008). A Novel Economic Intervention to Reduce HIV Risks among School-­going AIDS Orphans in Rural Uganda. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(1): 102-­104.

Book Chapters

  • Ismayilova L., Karimli L., Tô A., Nanema R., Sanson J., Gaveras E., Delannoy C., Hu W.  (2015). Child Protective Effects of Economic Strengthening and Child Rights Interventions among Ultra-poor Families in Burkina Faso. Keeping Families Together Through Economic Strengthening. Washington, DC: USAID and FHI360. Available at:
  • Ismayilova L. (2010). Intimate Partner Violence and Unintended Pregnancy in Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. Demographic and Health Survey Working Papers No. 79, Calverton, Maryland, USA: ICF Macro. Available at
  • Ssewamala, F. M. and Ismayilova, L. (2008). Faith-­‐based Institutions as Project Implementers: An Innovative Economic Empowerment Intervention for Care and Support of AIDS-­‐Orphaned and Vulnerable Children in Rural Uganda. In Pamela Joshi, Stephanie Hawkins and Jeffrey Novey (Eds.) edited volume, Innovations in Effective Compassion: Compendium of Research Papers for the White House FBO Conference (pp.213-­‐235). US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at:

Professor Ismayilova received her PhD and Master's Degree in Social Work from the Columbia University School of Social Work (CUSSW) with a concentration in advanced clinical practice and was among the first Open Society Institute (Soros Foundation) fellows from the former Soviet Union at Columbia.

She also holds Bachelor’s and Master's degrees in Psychology from Baku State University (Baku, Azerbaijan). Ismayilova was the founder and director of the Center for Psychological Counseling in Azerbaijan. The Center was the first mental health clinic in the country that provided counseling services to adults, children, and families with various emotional and behavioral problems. Her work experience also includes clinical practice at substance abuse and child and family mental health clinics in New York City.

Throughout the doctoral program at Columbia University School of Social Work (CUSSW) she had been involved in two National Institute of Health/NIH-funded randomized clinical trials testing the family-based economic empowerment model of care and support for AIDS-orphaned children in Uganda and its subsequent adaptation to impoverished communities in Nigeria. During her post-doctoral training at Columbia University Global Health Research Center of Central Asia (GHRCCA), she has served as an investigator on a NIDA-funded clinical trial testing couple-based preventive health intervention for drug users and a longitudinal epidemiological health study with migrant workers in Central Asia, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health/NIMH.