October 2023

Meet Susana Mariscal

Dr. Susana Mariscal is an associate professor at Indiana University School of Social Work. She is a translational scholar with an active research agenda centered on the prevention of child maltreatment and promotion of resilience among children and families, particularly among Latines. Dr. Mariscal is an affiliated research scientist with the Life Paths Research Center and she serves on Esperanza United’s (former National Latino Network for Healthy Families) Research Advisory Council. Her research has been funded by the Children’s Bureau (U.S. Administration for Children & Families); the Office for Victims of Crime (U.S. Department of Justice); UNICEF; and Fulbright-Alumni Engagement (Bolivia), among others. Her work has been published by leading academic journals spanning a number of disciplines. Dr. Mariscal is the director of Strengthening Indiana Families (SIF, $2.84M, U.S. Children’s Bureau), a primary strengths-based child maltreatment prevention project that focuses on the collaborative implementation and evaluation of four Family Resource Centers (FRCs) to enhance family support and protective factors through a continuum of community-based services. SIF’s FRC model is being replicated in ten additional communities. As the lead evaluator of Child Safety Forward Indiana, part of a national initiative to reduce child abuse and neglect fatalities, Dr. Mariscal used innovative developmental evaluation strategies to identify contributing factors at the community, system, and structural levels. The collective impact of these two projects and other prevention initiatives in Indiana has been substantial, developing and providing evidence for practice, transforming communities by improving cross-system collaboration, building on family resilience, and informing policy changes.

In her free time, Dr. Mariscal enjoyes cooking, singing, dancing, traveling, playing board games, going to concerts, playing with her dog and cat, taking care of her  plants, and doing a variety of arts and crafts projects.

I plan to continue transforming child maltreatment prevention in Indiana, the U.S., and the world, through community collaboration.

Dr. Susana Mariscal

Q and A with Dr. Susana Mariscal

I started studying youth victimization 27 years ago, as an undergraduate student at the Universidad Católica Boliviana in La Paz, Bolivia. I interviewed children & youth who suffered sexual abuse and their mothers. For my thesis, I developed a holistic child sexual abuse program for 3–5-year-olds addressing culturally specific risk factors "the first one of its kind". My clinical work with survivors and my lived experience showed me the connections between different forms of family violence, with potentially serious and often lifelong consequences of victimization (e.g., health, behavioral health, social-emotional, etc.), pointing out the need to promote resilience while preventing child maltreatment.

Then, I developed a resilience-focused school-based child maltreatment program for UNICEF, which was successfully implemented in multiple schools in my home country of Bolivia. I came to the U.S. to learn how to evaluate resilience and prevention and now it is full circle, as I am the principal investigator and director of Strengthening Indiana Families ($3.8M funded by the U.S. Children’s Bureau), a strengths-based primary child maltreatment prevention program that is implementing four data-informed Family Resource Centers in Indiana through community collaboration.

Considering the prevalence of child maltreatment and its consequences, I strive to answer two fundamental questions: How do we stop child maltreatment from happening? and How do we help individuals heal from the wounds left by childhood victimization? To address these questions, I study risk protective factors related to youth victimization and protective factors that promote resilience following exposure to violence to inform prevention and intervention practice. My translational research centers on using this information to develop, implement, and evaluate data-informed interventions to prevent child maltreatment and promote family resilience so that all children reach their full potential.

A national paradigm shift is currently taking place in child welfare, moving resources upstream toward prevention. This shift is evident in national policy and funding for prevention initiatives, such as the Community Collaborations Grant (CB), which has funded a total of 13 demonstration projects across the U.S. in two rounds (2018 & 2019). Strengthening Indiana Families (SIF) was one of nine projects funded in 2019. These demonstration projects are leading the way regarding child maltreatment prevention and Strengthening Indiana Families (SIF) has gained national recognition due to the following data-informed approach and impact:

  • We are expanding the evidence-based for Family Resource Centers as a strengths-based primary child maltreatment prevention practice, by designing, implementing and evaluating a model for Indiana that is data-informed and tailored to the community needs.
  • We are also expanding the evidence-based for A Window Between Worlds, which is a trauma-informed arts-based program. We are testing the feasibility of a manualized sequence and a novel delivery system (FRC).
  • We established four Family Resource Centers (FRC) in Delaware, Grant, Madison, and Tipton Counties. As of 4/30/23 there have been over 17,200 visits to our FRCs since they opened in January 2021. Our FRCs include the following core components:
    • Community navigators: who provide strengths-based, trauma-informed and culturally relevant services.
    • Concrete supports: Over 8,200 visits to Susy’s store which provides take and make meals, hygiene, and baby items. Our intake shows that 82% of the caregivers reported food insecurity and 42% utility insecurity in the last six months.
    • Monthly Family Fun Events: Over 8,000 visits to a variety of events, (e.g., karaoke, board games, movie night, crafts, cookie decorating, etc.).
    • Family-centered programming (e.g., parent cafés, story time, coffee chat).
    • Co-located services (peer recovery coaches, insurance navigation, etc.).
    • A Window Between Worlds (trauma-informed, arts-based program for children, youth, and adults).
  • We increased cross-system collaboration, communication, and service integration in the target area.
  • Our Family Resource Center model is being replicated in five Indiana communities (Clark, Elkhart, LaPorte, Tippecanoe, and Wayne Counties).
  • We developed a digital data-informed macro-level campaign “Kids don’t come with instructions. We’re here to help!” to reduce the stigma around parenting education, along with a website,YouTube channel, and Facebook pages.
  • Provided information to increase funding for child maltreatment prevention (Indiana Senate Bill 2, 2022, $45M).
  • In addition to peer reviewed presentations, we have been invited to present at top national conferences in the area such as the National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect as well as to present to national organizations, such as the National Family Support Network (TA provider on FRCs, with DCS Director) and the Federal Workgroup on Child Abuse and Neglect (35 agencies).  

Seeing families playing together, having fun, building their strengths and protective factors, and recognizing that they can engage those protective factors to promote their resilience when they face adversity. Knowing that everybody, including parents, does better when they are supported and that because of our collaboration some children and youth (and their families) may not experience maltreatment and their consequences. 

Undergraduate and graduate students work in my research team in different capacities (e.g., research assistant, student hourly). They support a variety of tasks including conducting literature reviews, obtaining informed consent, data collection, entry, management, analysis, and reporting, along with dissemination efforts. One of our students also facilitates A Window Between Worlds, which is a trauma-informed arts-based program we are evaluating as part of the Family Resource Centers.

I would not be able to do my translational research without my community partners. They are essential to the collaborative implementation of strengths-based primary child maltreatment prevention programs. Even the application for funding for the Strengthening Indiana Families in 2019 required the participation of multiple agencies. The initial conversation involved three groups: Indiana University School of Social Work, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS), and the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH). We soon partnered with Firefly Children and Family Alliance (Firefly), Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), Corporation for Supportive Housing, and the Commission for Improving the Status of Children in Indiana (Commission). We received 25 letters of support from multiple community partners.

Once we received the award, many more partners joined our Steering Committee and local implementation teams. We now have over 200 partners at the state and local levels (See our report for a complete list of our partners). Firefly is our implementing partner. I often describe my partners as dream-makers. They took my dreams and made them a reality, even beyond my dreams. Based on the information we obtained in our needs assessment, partners helped us envision and define what an Indiana Family Resource Center would look like, tailoring each center to the needs of the community. They help us problem solve and provide support as needed. DCS support has been instrumental to our success as they supplemented and align funding for the FRCs. Further, DCS is replicating our model in five communities and plans to sustain our FRCs when our grant ends. We have co-located services at each FRC, to enhance accessibility and destigmatize service access. For instance, we partner with libraries who provide specific programs at the FRCs. Some partners provide in-kind donations and support the FRCs in other ways, like volunteering their own time to help with our monthly family fun events. We also partner with parents in our communities who have a diverse background through our Parent Advisory Group (Indiana Parent Group Collaborative). These partners amplify the voice and participation of parents in prevention efforts. Overall, our partners have developed a clear sense of ownership regarding the FRCs and more than joint accountability, we have shared support. Again, community partners are essential to our success in multiple ways.

I plan to continue transforming child maltreatment prevention in Indiana, the U.S., and the world, through community collaboration. I plan to focus on meaningful opportunities to advance primary child maltreatment prevention and family resilience promotion, building on the strong collaborative relationships I have with partners at the local, state, national, and international levels.

  1. Conduct translational research on child maltreatment prevention through community collaboration : My partners and I will pursue diversified external funding to diversify funding to sustain SIF. I will seek opportunities to replicate this model across Indiana and support replication in other communities in the U.S. as well as in Latin America. I will publish multiple manuscripts on findings from my multi-year translational research projects. Our team is currently working on four manuscripts.
  2. Conduct research on youth victimization, particularly among Latines: I am part of a team with Dr. Sabina (Rutgers) who will be conducting a national and a community survey on Latina victimization next year (LAT-VIDA). We want to ensure intersectional representation so recruitment will be essential. I will clean, analyze, interpret, and publish manuscripts using data from LAT-VIDA national and community surveys. Our team is currently conducting scoping reviews of the literature of Latine victimization. I also plan to continue collaborating with Dr. Sabina, Dr. Cuevas, and others focusing on publications on Latine victimization.
  3. As an Associate Scientist and a member of the Resilience Portfolio Consortium (RPC, Life Paths Research Center), I will continue to collaborate with Dr. Hamby, Dr. Banyard, and other scholars on publications focusing on resilience and protective factors. Currently, I am working on three scoping reviews (SR) that resulted from the initial RPC meeting.
  4. Create an applied research lab focusing on youth victimization, prevention, strengths, and resilience.

Conversation with Dr. Susana Mariscal

On Friday, October 27, 2023 from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m., Dr. Susana Mariscal and her community partners will talk about "Strengths-Based Primary Prevention: Working Together to Increase Family Wellbeing and Social Support." They will describe how Indiana is part of the nationwide shift toward prevention through community collaborations using a strengths-based approach, integrating various efforts, tailoring responses to needs, using digital campaigns, aligning funding, and gaining champions’ support. The Strengthening Indiana Families project, funded by the Children’s Bureau, has strengthened cross-system collaborations at the state and local levels in Indiana and has garnered buy-in from leaders and policymakers, leading to funding alignment and increased financial support. Join us to learn more about these successful community programs.