The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Before It Happens

Preventing violence is an academic focus for a select group of SSA students

For the last seven years, SSA students enrolled in the Beatrice Cummings Mayer Program in Violence Prevention have learned the skills and knowledge needed for evidence-based interventions and programs to prevent violence before it happens. Today, alumni of the program work in schools, at early childhood programs, in hospitals, in academia and beyond.

“There really are multiple points where social workers can help prevent damaging occurrences of child abuse, domestic violence or youth violence and do so before it occurs,” says Neil Guterman, SSA’s dean and Mose & Sylvia Firestone Professor, who envisioned and started the program. “We have a graduate who’s working at a university to prevent rapes on campus and another in a very traditional social work role in the emergency room at Stroger Hospital who is working to simultaneously ameliorate trauma for victims of violence and also avert potential retribution violence, so that the victims don’t also become perpetrators.”

Social work has long helped the victims of violence, of course, but violence prevention is a relatively new focus. When a social worker helps keep a violent act from occurring, both victims and perpetrators can change their life trajectory and avoid becoming enmeshed in the health care, child welfare, criminal justice or mental health systems.

“Many of these systems are very stigmatizing and can even be traumatizing for participants, even victims,” Guterman explains. “For example, it can be a very difficult and unpleasant experience for a woman who has been raped to go to the police, and we’ve all sadly heard about instances where children who have suffered from maltreatment have then been abused or even died while under the custody of child protective services.”

Students in the program have a field placement focused on violence prevention and take a special seminar, as well as one or more relevant electives. “SSA is the only school of social work in the country that offers a specialized program focus on the prevention of violence before the fact,” Guterman says. — Carl Vogel