Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Friday, January 18, 2008: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Palladian Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
[RD/M] Challenges to Effective Research after Natural Disasters
Speakers/Presenters:Carol Plummer, PhD, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge
Daphne S. Cain, PhD, Louisiana State University
Roslyn Richardson, MSW, Southern University, Baton Rouge
Juan J. Barthelemy, PhD, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge
Abstract Text:
When a natural disaster impacts a community, there is an impetus to conduct new research and an urgent need to learn about how this has affected people's lives. Social work is often at the forefront of such research. In addition, social workers want to determine optimal ways in which to intervene and best programs for responding to human needs. Similarly, schools of social work in disaster areas feel responsibility to generate knowledge from this negative community event and want to respond proactively to the community crisis. Social work students, themselves adjusting to the disaster experience, also may have extensive demands on them which can impact their learning and research goals. New ethical dilemmas present themselves with exceedingly vulnerable populations and competition between service delivery and research priorities. As a variety of natural disasters increasingly impact lives, from hurricanes to fires to tornados to floods, the field of disaster research continues to grow.

The realities of disaster research are far different from most empirical academic research, especially in areas that have just suffered greatly. First, researchers in the affected areas may or may not be trained in disaster research. Second, the research institutions and their personnel may also be adversely affected. Third, the community infrastructure, people and services to be studied, are all in disarray. On top of this, federal dollars, far-distant universities, and well-meaning opportunists all descend on the steps of local universities, wanting assistance, contacts, and information.

This roundtable session will raise issues of responsible social work research responses in disaster areas. Four social work faculty, representing distinctive research projects, will detail their initial forays into disaster research though previously their content areas were not focused on disaster. Each will present an overview of their project and detail partnerships, challenges, innovations, ethical considerations, and problems associated with their research endeavors. One project involved five universities studying their social work student needs, reactions, and coping. This study was initiated externally. Another project evaluated the responses and effectiveness of religious institutions in the immediate crisis following Hurricane Katrina. A third, funded by two private foundations, supported interventions with evacuated children and their parents using Psychological First Aid and then evaluated those interventions. The final discussant will explain several thwarted projects that were unsuccessful and/or that the researcher decided not to pursue despite the opportunity. The discussants will encourage discussion of theories, practice issues, and cultural context with participation of all in attendance. The goal is to stimulate thinking about responsible research in the immediate and longterm aftermath of community disaster.

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