Session: Nexus-Based Research: A Methodological Framework for Engaging Criminalized and Psychiatrized Individuals in Qualitative Research (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

98 Nexus-Based Research: A Methodological Framework for Engaging Criminalized and Psychiatrized Individuals in Qualitative Research

Friday, January 13, 2023: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Cave Creek, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Brianna Suslovic, MSW, University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice
Samantha Guz, MSSW, University of Chicago, Matthew Epperson, PhD, University of Chicago and Brianna Suslovic, MSW, University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice
Criminal-legal diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration have expanded in recent years, and as a result, more social workers are acting as practitioners and researchers in these contexts. In these settings, social workers are tasked with engaging clients who are often dually involved in community mental health and criminal-legal systems. Existing scholarship attends to the challenges of engaging individuals with serious mental illness as research subjects. However, existing methodological frameworks have not addressed the specific challenges of conducting qualitative social work research at the nexus of criminal-legal and psychiatric oppression.

This workshop will introduce an anti-oppressive research approach tailored to this specific context, which we are calling a nexus-based methodological framework. Court diversion participants exist at the nexus of the criminal-legal and community mental health systems, and as such, they require a unique and flexible set of social work interventions to support their meaningful engagement and completion of program mandates. It logically follows that when diversion programming clients are asked to participate in qualitative research, researchers must attend to ethical and pragmatic considerations to prevent material, ethical, or epistemic injustices from happening during or after the research process. Especially given research participants' ongoing criminal-legal involvement and psychiatric symptoms, engaging participants ethically and effectively is of utmost importance.

Workshop presenters, who all possess social work practice experience, will offer insights from our ongoing study of mental health-focused court diversion programming in a large Midwest city. After developing interview questions, obtaining informed consent, conducting interviews with participants, compensating participants, and qualitatively interpreting interview data, we identified a set of methodological findings. First, the role of boundaried rapport-building with research participants is essential. Second, the intersection of criminalization and pathologization can result in heightened guardedness or distrust from research participants, who might be hesitant to share experiences with researchers. Third, the researcher may benefit from a practice-informed approach to research that mobilizes an understanding of psychiatric symptoms and common legal terms in order to avoid epistemic gaps in the research process. The framework we propose is rooted in our own on-the-ground decision-making about emergent research concerns that implicated power and oppression. These dynamics emerged in moments during interviews where participants displayed psychiatric symptoms, where we navigated compensation with participants, and where we were able to discern participants' guarded reactions to us as researchers and social workers. Our findings stem from participant interview data as well as researcher-authored memos that were created during data collection.

This interactive workshop will cover: 1) the benefits of a qualitative methodological framework that can attend to criminal-legal and psychiatric contingencies. 2) strategies for promoting epistemic justice within qualitative research at the nexus of criminal-legal and community mental health systems. Presenters will facilitate discussion with attendees about applications of the framework to their own work. By prompting attendees to consider their own research and practice experiences, the workshop will illustrate the core considerations and potential applications of our novel framework.

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