Nucha Isarowong came to social work as a second career. Two early adulthood experiences set him down the path to working with children and families through social work — a path that was both unexpected and rewarding.
While attending college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he joined a student social and activist group and concurrently became a mentor to adolescents coming out as LGBTQ. Through these activities, he saw the impact he could have on individuals whose experiences were similar to his own and the environment in which they live and learn. This volunteer work catalyzed his decision to change his career path with the goal of becoming a social worker serving children.
After completing his master’s degree in social work at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, he worked in the Chicago Public School system with children and families from racially, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds. It was in this setting that he experienced what professionals in the fields of prevention and intervention meant by “going upstream”: Addressing children’s developmental and academic concerns earlier in life could potentially set them on a path toward long-term well-being.
“Our interdisciplinary team of school-based professionals included me, a social worker; speech, occupational, and physical therapists; a classroom teacher; and a teaching assistant,” he recalls. “We engaged all the young children in the early childhood special education classroom with activities that allowed us to address each student’s developmental challenges in more structured ways. By end of the year, some of those children no longer qualified for intensive special education services. I thought, if we can do this with 3- to 5-year-olds and have this effect, what if we went younger?”
Today, his academic and clinical work focus on infants and toddlers, children with special needs, children growing up in urban communities, and their families. One of his lines of research explores the intersection of fathers, fatherhood, and father engagement in the field of infant mental health. Through his involvement with Erikson’s Fussy Baby Network®, he co-facilitates a Partners Workshop for expectant fathers and parenting partners with the nurse education team at the University of Chicago Hospital Center for Care and Discovery. In addition, he co-facilitates professional development workshop to home visiting professionals trained in Fussy Baby’s Facilitated Attuned Interaction (FAN) model to enhance professional competency around father engagement.
“There are lots of messages about what it means to be a father in our society,” he says. “Recent research tells us that, biologically, fathers are just as primed to be parents as mothers are, and the roles fathers play in their children’s lives are all social construction.”
In his academic courses, Dr. Isarowong’s looks to take students out of their comfort zones. By encouraging discussions about diversity, inclusion, and social structures, he gives students a sample of the types of topics they will have to address as professionals working with children and families. “We have discussions that can be uncomfortable, because students will need to have those discussion with their clients,” he says.
He also stresses the need for social workers to engage in “self-care.” In the course of their careers, he explains, they will work with many children and families who have experienced trauma and hardships, and sometimes, they might feel as though they are battling the systems in which they work. These experiences are mentally and emotionally exhausting.
“Self-care isn’t a luxury — it’s a need,” he says. “This kind of work isn’t possible without self-care. It’s important for social workers to find time each day to engage in something to nourish ourselves and get us ready to go back out there to work with and on behalf of children and families.”
- BS in advertising, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- AM in social work, University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration
- PhD in social work, University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration
Areas of Expertise
- Child development, parenting, and developmental trajectories
- Infant and early childhood mental health
- Early intervention and special education (IDEA Parts B, C, and D)
- Early childhood home visitation
- Human development in diverse social and cultural contexts
- Social work education and professional development
- Parental perceptions of early interventions services and transition: learning from Spanish-speaking families in Chicago.
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- Isarowong, N. (2016). Raising toddlers: A naturalistic, longitudinal examination of African American parental socialization messages and practices with toddlers in high-risk environments (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Chicago).
- Casas, P. & Isarowong, N. (2015). Saint Anthony Hospital: Infusing developmental and family support services in community-based medical practice. Zero to Three journal, 35(6), pp. 29-37.
- Edwards, R.C., Thullen, M.J., Isarowong, N., Shiu, C.S., Henson, L.G., & Hans, S.L. (2012). Supportive relationships and the trajectory of depressive symptoms among young, African American mothers. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(4), pp. 585-94.
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- Isarowong, N., Gilkerson, L., & McMillin, S.E. (2017). Roundtable on Reflective Practice to Ensure Healthy Development of Children: Preparing Social Work Students for Effective Practice with Children and Families. Presentation accepted at the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Annual Conference, New Orleans, LA.
- Isarowong, N. (2017) Service Systems for Children with Developmental Differences. Presentation at Developmental Difference Resource Fair, Neighborhood Parents Network, Chicago, IL.
- Isarowong, N. (2017). Raising Toddlers: A naturalistic examination of everyday socialization messages in urban, low-income African American families. Poster accepted at the Society for Research on Child Development (SRCD) Biennial Meeting, Austin, TX.
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Related professional experience
- The FAN and Fathers Workshop for Fussy Baby Network
- Diversity-Informed Infant Mental Health Tenets Workshop for Harris Foundation’s Professional Development Network
- Service Systems for Children with Developmental Differences presentation at Developmental Difference Resource Fair for Neighborhood Parents Network, Chicago
- Welcome to the Parenting Journey for Partners Workshop at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Center for Care and Discovery
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