UK Social Work’s Garcia named RWJF Fellow

The University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW) announced today that Dr. Antonio Garcia, Associate Professor, has been selected to participate in one of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) leadership programs. These programs connect changemakers across the country—from every profession and field—to learn from and work with one another in creating more just and thriving communities. 

Specifically, Garcia was selected for Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL). Designed for teams of two researchers and one community leader, IRL supports teams as they work with their communities to design and conduct rigorous research to explore critical issues, then apply the findings in real time to advance health and equity.

“Being named an IRL Fellow is truly a profound honor. As part of the fifth cohort of fellows, IRL is credited for leading the charge of training researchers and academic partners to engage in meaningful and lasting collaboration to create a culture of health, particularly for marginalized populations. Simply put, being named a fellow is reflective of an initiative that is greater than myself or even my academic career. Often times in academia, the work stops once research findings are published,” Garcia said. “With IRL, the charge is to translate science into practice – to make sure the research is timely, relevant, and impactful.”

Garcia said he shares this recognition with two incredible trailblazers who he is fortunate to collaborate with – David Cozart from the Lexington Leadership Foundation, and Dr. Rafael E. Pérez-Figueroa, who is on faculty at the UK College of Public Health.

Collectively, they recognize the value of experiential and community knowledge. The partnership will be multidirectional and transformational in how they move away from “traditional” ideological and methodological approaches to generate knowledge that is used and critiqued by the inner circles of academicians. 

Instead, due to their stance on community-engaged research, the knowledge they generate as IRL Fellows will be more readily practical, relevant, and translatable in practice contexts. 

“For me personally, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to integrate or “wear the hats” of my former experience as a direct practice child welfare caseworker and that of a social welfare researcher,” Garcia said. 

As a member of the program’s newest cohort, Garcia will focus on delivering and assessing the impact of evidence-informed curriculum intended to equip fathers with the skills, capacities, and resourcesto be responsible fathers. In collaboration with Pérez-Figueroa and Cozart, the research project will also determine if/how the curriculum needs to be adapted to effectively engage fathers who are involved in the child welfare system.

According to Garcia, it is well documented that children of absent fathers are more likely to reside in poverty and in impoverished communities of color with little to no access to academically enriching schools and recreational activities, or health/mental health services and supports to reduce the risk of foster care and/or juvenile justice system involvement. Consequently, marginalized youth and families are disproportionately represented in these systems. 

“We hope to mitigate these intersecting public health concerns by building the evidence to inform effective, engaging, and culturally relevant curriculum for fathers who are traditionally overshadowed in child welfare case planning,” Garcia said. “While the existing curriculum delivered by The Fatherhood Initiative, a program of Lexington Leadership Foundation in Fayette County is innovative, efficacy still needs to be established—and we need to identify if and how to enhance or modify the curriculum to ensure child welfare involved fathers are armed with the capacity topromote child well-being.”

Garcia continued, saying that on a grand scale, their intention is to model how to build, sustain, and nurture research-practice partnerships to instill change and promote a culture of health for at-risk youth and families.

“We are extremely proud of the work that Dr. Garcia has done and, will continue to do as part of the IRL fellowship,” said Jay Miller, CoSW dean. “Dr. Garcia’s commitment to translational, practice oriented research will undoubtedly impact communities in Kentucky and beyond.” 

To learn more about Interdisciplinary Research Leaders and RWJF’s other leadership programs, and to meet other participants, visit www.irleaders.org