Integrating experience, evidence in social work
Sonya Leathers is a nationally recognized pioneer in preparing students for evidence-based social work practice.
Leathers, associate professor in the Jane Addams College of Social Work, is part of a growing group of social workers who recognize the importance of integrating individual clinical expertise with external clinical evidence.
An expert in child and adolescent mental health, she directs the social work training program in evidence-based practices for children and adolescents, called the Evidence-based Mental Health Practices with Children Certificate program.
“Effective education of social work practitioners must result in the transfer of their training in evidence-based interventions to actual practice settings to improve service quality and client outcomes,” says Leathers, winner of a UIC Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“My goal over the past 15 years has been to develop a replicable approach that accomplishes this.”
The certificate program prepares social work students to work with children, adolescents and their families in urban community mental health agencies and other service settings.
Her research, focused on improved mental health outcomes for urban children and adolescents, develops implementation and training models for social workers and disseminates evidence-based interventions to community mental health and child welfare agencies.
Her work has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Children’s Bureau and Health Resources and Services Administration.
Leathers’ goal in the classroom is to “push the boundaries” of traditional approaches to social work education. Teaching and actual practice experiences must be “inextricably linked so that evidence-based behaviors are learned, modeled, practiced and reinforced across contexts,” she said.
In teaching evaluations, students praise her expertise in child welfare, mental health and clinical social work practice; ability to translate this experience into terms understandable to beginning students; and how she challenges them to think critically about the course-related material.
Leathers mentors undergraduate students in the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Program and the Summer Research Opportunities Program.
She received her Ph.D. in social services administration with a clinical focus from the University of Chicago. Before joining UIC in 1999, she was a social worker in child welfare and mental health settings for 10 years.