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Student Research

Belmont Undergraduate Research Symposium (BURS)

BURS 2012Each year, social work students join with other undergraduates at Belmont in conducting independent research in their fields of study.  In the spring, the students present their research findings to a community of peers at the Belmont Undergraduate Research Symposium (BURS).  This opportunity provides excellent preparation for advanced study in social work and enhances understanding of the profession.

Recent Research Presentations by Social Work Students

Community Safety at the Expense of Student Well-Being

Kamrie Reed, Emilie Paulus, Allison Durham, and Cherish Woodard

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Hause Crowell, MSSW, PhD. 

In 1992, the Tennessee General Assembly mandated that at least one alternative school or alternative school-like program be established for each local education agency (LEA) to serve suspended and expelled youth. Since that time, the quality of alternative education in Tennessee has increased and national recognition for providing innovative services. As of 2013, there were 25 alternative schools across Tennessee providing students who struggle in academics or behavior the opportunity to continue their educational experience in a non-traditional setting. However, evidence suggests that alternative schooling may not be the most efficient or effective solution for all struggling students. House Bill 0174 and Senate Bill 0182, as introduced by Representative Shelia Butt (R) and Senator Joey Hensley (R) proposes to add additional grounds for a juvenile to be expelled or remanded to an alternative school; the issuance of a criminal complaint charging a student with a felony or upon the issuance of a felony delinquency complaint against the students whether in school or off of school grounds. As social workers, we believe in true social justice. We are advocates of this justice for vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people whose voices are seldom heard or understood. Most importantly, we advocate for the meaningful participation in decision making for all people including children and young adults. We plan to evaluate the current state of this issue as well as the populations that are impacted by this proposed legislation. We will then discuss the strengths and limitations of this proposed legislation. To conclude, we will suggest recommendations for changes and discuss the connection to social work values. 

Asphyxiation in Primary Schools

Tori Boyer, Brittany McGavic, Paige Hardman, Winona Yellowhammer, Amy Vailliencourt

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Hause Crowell, MSSW, PhD.

Senate Bill 29, introduced to the Tennessee State General Assembly of 2015, prohibits the use of life-threatening restraint on students who receive special education services.  One type of life threatening restraint, prone restraint, is defined in the bill as “any restraint in which a student is held face down with applied physical pressure to control the student’s movement.” Tennessee defines special education services as “any classroom, home, hospital or institution designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities, as well as transportation and any other services for children with disabilities.” In this analysis, we will discuss the state definitions for prone restraint, disabilities, and special education services, as well as the implications this bill holds for both the education system and families of children with special needs. We will also discuss the strengths and limitations of the bill as well as how this proposed legislation aligns with social work values. If passed, this bill would not cost the state of Tennessee any money to implement; school systems, however, would potentially need to provide funding in order to train educators to learn safe techniques to replace prone restraint in the classroom. Currently, schools in Tennessee offer educators and school staff no training in regard to the crisis intervention of children who receive special education services.  Given that prone restraint and other life-threatening restraints are often used unknowingly or out of desperation, Senate Bill 29 will be effective in protecting students from educators’ lack of crisis intervention training.   

Adoption Placement-Planning: Asking the Right Questions

Tobi Adegoke, Carina Dente, Natalie Hennessy, and Carolina Smith

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Hause Crowell, MSSW, PhD.

In fiscal year 2013, 8,180 children were in the foster care system in the state of Tennessee. While reunification or adoption is the primary goal of foster care, circumstances do not always allow for either to happen quickly. The purpose of Senate Bill 0075 and House Bill 0065, as introduced to the 2015 Tennessee General Assembly by Senator Norris and Representative McCormick, is to improve the likelihood of a successful match between an adoptive parent and a child in the foster care system. The bills seek to accomplish this by updating requirements about information that the state must provide to the prospective parents. The bills also have a clause that promulgates rules to expand a foster parent advocacy program. Under this rule, a foster parent who has been accused of abuse or neglect can be assigned an advocate to accompany the parent through the legal process. The sponsors believe that the strengths of the bills outweigh the negatives, as they seek to provide information that could lead to less opportunity for a match failure. As social workers who believe that upholding our six core values leads to the best result possible in any given situation, we support these bills, as they speak to several of these values, such as dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, and competence. We will explore the strengths and limitations of these bills. Then, building upon these strengths and limitations, we will make recommendations for change. As established by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, the three national goals for children in foster care are safety, permanency, and well-being. These goals demand that our attention be aimed at improving the lives of children in foster care. The passage of these bills would help to ensure that these three goals remain a priority. 

Insure Tennessee

Sarah Balding and Miranda Arstikaitis, Elizabeth Pirani and Maggie Harahan

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Hause Crowell, MSSW, PhD.

It is estimated that 280,000 Tennesseans are currently living without health insurance. In response to this, Governor Bill Haslam has crafted a plan to expand Medicaid in the state of Tennessee. Commonly referred to as Insure Tennessee, House and Senate Joint Resolution 7001 introduced by Representative Gerald McCormick and Senator Doug Overbey, proposed a program that would work to increase access to health insurance by bridging the gap between those who currently qualify for TennCare and those who purchase insurance through the marketplace. If reintroduced, this program has the potential to create positive health outcomes for uninsured Tennesseans. This analysis will explain the history of Medicaid, as well as the current state of Medicaid expansion in the country – focusing specifically on the state of Tennessee. We will explore the strengths and weaknesses of Insure Tennessee, demonstrating the positive impact it could have on the population currently without health insurance. We will also identify the fiscal hurdles that must be overcome in order to encourage support of Insure Tennessee from all parties. Lastly, we will present recommendations for amendments aimed at reintroduction and passage of this important legislation. Insure Tennessee upholds all six of the social work values outlined by the National Association of Social Workers and as such deserves our passionate support. In making healthcare more affordable and accessible we provide Tennesseans the opportunity to prioritize their health, maintain their financial security, and reduce worry and stress in their daily lives.

Juvenile Gang Members: Instant Adults?

Sarah Moore and Rebecca Sanders

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Hause Crowell, MSSW, PhD.

Each year the national percentage of juvenile gang members decreases, while the number of gang related crimes has risen in Tennessee. Nearly 50% of gang members are currently under the age of 18. Adjudication of juvenile gang related cases is determined by the presiding judge’s discretion, but with the passing of House Bill 0227 and Senate Bill 0339 the offender would be automatically transferred from juvenile to adult court. These bills, which are sponsored in the Tennessee general Assembly by Representative Sheila Butt and Senator Joseph Hensley respectively, state that if a juvenile was accused of a crime that is associated with gang activity (as listed in § 40-35-121) and has a prior offense, they must be transferred to adult criminal court. In this analysis we plan to evaluate the bills’ immediate and long-term impact on individuals and the community, the strengths and limitations of this legislation, and our recommendations for change. We will then evaluate the proposed bills in light of our professional values as social workers. We suggest that the mandatory waiver law for juveniles with prior gang related offenses is not in the best interest of juvenile offenders, especially those of color or low socioeconomic status. We understand that the possibility of being tried as an adult could serve as a deterrent for juveniles in the system, but argue that the poor outcomes of juveniles tried as adults outweighs any deterring aspect of the law. A law focused on the rehabilitation of juvenile gang offenders, rather than punishment, would better serve all key stakeholders involved.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Racial Profiling Prevention?

Kaylin Tudor

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Hause Crowell, MSSW, PhD.

In the United States, approximately thirty-two million people reportedly have been victims of racial profiling. Racial profiling is a human rights issue affecting millions of Americans in even the most routine aspects of their daily lives. In order to combat this issue, Tennessee passed the Racial Profiling Prevention Act of 2008, which “strongly encouraged” law enforcement agencies to adopt a written policy, which prohibits racial profiling. Unfortunately, this law has since expired. The Code Commission deleted this law as obsolete in 2010. Although it was deemed irrelevant, 2013 crime statistics reveal that minorities continue to make up a disproportionate percentage of arrests in Tennessee. Senate Bill 0006 and House Bill 0057 reintroduce to the 2015 Tennessee General Assembly the Racial Profiling Prevention Act, which “requires” law enforcement agencies, including university police departments, to adopt a written policy, which prohibits racial profiling. This law defines racial profiling as the “detention, interdiction, or other disparate treatment of an individual solely on the basis of the individual’s actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, or national origin” (Boucher, 2014). This paper will discuss the populations impacted by this bill, the strengths and limitations of the bill, potential changes to the bill, and how this bill correlates with social work values and ethics, as well as the National Association of Social Worker’s Policy Statements for 2012-2014.

Intractable Pain Act: Doctor Shopping or Self-Determination?

Haley Spigner and Mackenzie Mayer

Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Hause Crowell, MSSW, PhD.

From 2000 to 2010, oxycodone sales in Tennessee increased more than 500 percent (Tani, 2014). Some think the reason for this opiate epidemic is because of the Intractable Pain Treatment Act that was passed into law in Tennessee in 2001. The passage of this act allowed for patients with chronic or severe pain to “doctor shop” or find a doctor who would prescribe them opiate-based painkillers if their original doctor refused to do so for any reason. Tennessee has one of the highest rates of recorded drug-related convictions and overdose deaths in the United States. House Bill 0031 and Senate Bill 0157 introduced to the Tennessee General Assembly by Senator Bowling and Representative are designed to address these alarming statistics and propose the removal of the Intractable Pain Treatment Act, (IPTA). This paper will analyze the possible outcomes that the retraction of the IPTA could have on doctors, patients, and those that struggle with opiate addiction. We will evaluate this bill using the National Association of Social Work professional values and examine how the bill will impact vulnerable populations.


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