Interview with Amy Beaulieu, LCSW on Social Work Research and Program Development

About Amy Beaulieu, LCSW: Ms. Beaulieu is a program development specialist and licensed clinical social worker in Bloomington, Indiana. In addition to her over ten years of experience practicing clinical social work with children and families in numerous settings, Ms. Beaulieu has a wide variety of experience as a program developer, public policy consultant, and research associate.

Ms. Beaulieu earned her BA in Clinical Psychology in 1999 from Tufts University, and her Master’s degree in Social Work in 2003 from Columbia University. She completed her first MSW field internship at the Department of Pediatrics at Harlem Hospital Center as a Program Assistant, where she designed and implemented numerous psychoeducational workshops for parents, youth, and hospital volunteers. During her second field internship, Ms. Beaulieu worked as a Research Assistant for Columbia University’s Center for Social Policy & Practice in the Workplace, where she provided support to research projects, developed educational materials and policy reports, and served as a consultant to mental health agencies working to offer vocational support to individuals. She currently manages a private practice working with children and families, as well as a consulting business focused on providing technical support and advising to organizations that address children’s mental health issues.

After receiving her MSW, Ms. Beaulieu worked as a Policy Associate for Children’s Behavioral Health and Child Welfare for the University of Southern Maine (USM) and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child and Family Services. She has co-authored and published two research articles with USM, entitled “Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders: State of the Evidence” and “Evidence Based Treatments for Children and Adolescents with Disruptive Behavior Disorders.” She also co-authored and published “Psychotropic Medications in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review and Synthesis for Evidence-Based Practice” in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.She has also peer-reviewed research in evidence-based practice specific to children with autism spectrum disorder. Amy Beaulieu was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Could you please elaborate on the work you did at the University of Southern Maine?

[Amy Beaulieu, LCSW] I worked as a Policy Associate at the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy, where I was responsible for project development and consulting in the areas of children’s behavioral health and child welfare. In this role, I coordinated program development, professional development, and research projects for staff of the State of Maine Department of Health & Human Services under an annual cooperative agreement. I had to use a myriad of skills in my day-to-day work, including project management, development and delivery of staff trainings, literature reviews, and both qualitative and quantitative research. Most of my work focused on identification and implementation of evidence-based treatment models for children with disruptive behavior disorders and autism spectrum disorders. I managed two separate task forces consisting of various stakeholders from across the state of Maine, including providers, consumers and parents. As the coordinator of this project, I developed methodology for the systematic identification, review and rating of treatment models that could possibly be implemented on a large scale across the state. This involved a great deal of time finding, reviewing, and summarizing relevant peer-reviewed research; interviewing the developers of various treatment models; and educating professionals and consumers on evidence-based practice. I was also tasked with writing white papers and monographs, and summarizing the findings and conclusions of the task forces. One of these papers inspired the publication of a systematic review in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, co-authored with Dr. Matthew Siegel, a renowned child psychiatrist who participated in the autism task force.

In addition to conducting this research, I also coordinated various program development initiatives on behalf of the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS). I helped develop ideas for systems improvement initiatives alongside managers at DHHS based on needs assessments that I helped to conduct or that were done by their own staff. Priorities for program development were often in line with funding priorities and federal program improvement guidelines. We made sure to include the perspectives of providers and consumers at every step along the way of the process. Much of this work was guided by advisory groups consisting of various stakeholders. It was my role to identify the stakeholders, engage them in the advisory group, organize the logistics of the group meetings, and disseminate information to the group members. This involved a great deal of organizational skill, as well as a considerable sensitivity to politics involved in balancing the needs of diverse stakeholders.

[] Since macro-level social work so often involves researching, evaluating, and working to improve systems of care, could you please elaborate on the concept of a system of care? What are the elements of a system of care, what issues commonly arise for people within the system, and what role do social workers play in addressing these issues, in a micro and a macro level?

[Amy Beaulieu, LCSW] Systems of care is a much-used term that can imply many meanings. In the field of children’s behavioral health, the most common understanding of “systems of care” is the notion of a responsive system of services for children, youth and families that is consumer-driven, family-focused, and cost-effective. Systems of care initiatives often seek to “braid” various funding streams together to more effectively serve families that often find themselves involved in multiple systems, such as juvenile justice, child welfare, and mental health.

Families involved in multiple systems often face barriers to receiving targeted, effective care. For instance, eligibility requirements can be very different to receive funding for services depending on whether you are involved in juvenile justice, children’s mental health, or child welfare. I have been involved in many cases where a youth has been referred to the juvenile justice or child welfare system just so they can receive needed services because the other systems do not have access to funding for certain programs. This is frustrating because the child and family then become involved in the legal system, which adds another layer of scrutiny and set of service providers to juggle in an already stressful situation.

Social workers are crucial, at both a macro- and micro-level, in developing and delivering services within the system of care. Social workers are uniquely trained to be able to view services from a systems perspective and then translate this knowledge to how services will work at the individual and family level. Therefore, social workers are very effective program developers–able to design systems that will flow logically from identified needs to desired outcomes. At the micro-level, social workers are crucial advocates for consumers who are negotiating service systems, helping them understand the systems they find themselves involved in and advocating for their needs with gatekeepers and decision-makers.

[] During your time working in social work research and systems of care improvement, what were some of your most rewarding experiences? What did you like about this field of work? On the other hand, what major challenges did this line of work present, and how did you manage/overcome them?

[Amy Beaulieu, LCSW] Seeing my work inform the widespread investment in evidence-based treatment models throughout the state of Maine was very rewarding because I understood that this would lead to greater quality of care and improved outcomes for children and families. I am very gratified that during my tenure, state policymakers came to understand and appreciate that they couldn’t afford not to invest in research-backed treatments. I also really enjoyed pulling together groups of stakeholders to engage in problem-solving and discussion. I met so many interesting professionals and consumers who were all dedicated to improving outcomes for families and being wise stewards of public dollars. The connections I made continue to influence my work today.

Of course, there were also many challenges in this work. I quickly became adept in the delicate politics involved in managing diverse groups of stakeholders. Unfortunately, this knowledge was gained through making plenty of mistakes along the way and learning from them. I also had to learn to accept that not all of my recommendations would be welcomed by policymakers. The politics involved in investing millions of public dollars is intricate and intense. I had to learn that I could not always understand why certain decisions were made at the highest levels and that there were sometimes forces at work that I was not privy to.

[] As you are also a child and family therapist who has worked in numerous settings, would you say that your experiences in research, program development, and public service management have benefited your work as a clinical social worker? If so, in what ways? Conversely, have you also had the opportunity to do more macro social work in your current role as a therapist?

[Amy Beaulieu, LCSW] Absolutely! I have been able to use my experience to help my clients and colleagues better understand how and why systems and funding streams work as they do. I have also been able to help colleagues identify treatment models that would be effective in certain cases due to my expertise in evaluating evidence-based practices. In my current role as a therapist, I unfortunately have not had as much involvement in macro-level work as I might like in the last few years. I am relatively new to my current home state of Indiana and have yet to make connections with policymakers that would lead to consultation roles. I hope to become involved in advisory groups or other professional associations through increased involvement in my NASW chapter and perhaps local university schools of social work. I am planning to increase my availability for consultation in program development and professional development in the next year.

[] For MSW students who are interested in a career in social work research, public service management, and/or program development, what advice can you give them about optimally preparing for this field while pursuing their degree?

[Amy Beaulieu, LCSW] I would advise choosing a graduate program that offers additional tracks of study outside of clinical social work, such as advanced generalist practice & programming (AGPP), social policy, research, or social administration. I deliberately chose a program that allowed me to blend studies in clinical social work, research, AGPP, and administration through core courses, field placements in macro practice, and unique elective offerings.

With regard to coursework, I took several classes in research methodology, statistics, program development and administration, including staff education and training, and human resource management. I made sure to balance these macro courses with clinical electives that were interesting to me as I am a firm believer that the best program developers and researchers are, first and foremost, solid clinical practitioners with experience “in the trenches” with clients.

I suggest taking a second year field placement in a macro setting, such as a state policy department, research project, foundation, or consultancy group. This on-the-ground work is so much more valuable than any classroom learning and helps to make connections and networks with macro practitioners who can help shape your early career. In fact, my second year field placement at the Workplace Center at Columbia University with Dr. Shelley Akabas led to an offer of full-time employment following graduation. I ultimately was not able to take the job due to family obligations, but Dr. Akabas has been a great supporter of my career and I know I could count on her for any advice or networking to this day. Finally, use your summer(s) between graduate school years wisely. There are many fellowship and internship opportunities in the macro field that can help you gain solid experience and inform your career decisions.

Thank you Ms. Beaulieu for your time and insights into social work research and program development.

Last updated: April 2020