Faculty and Staff
Title/s: Associate Professor
Office #: Coffey 203
Dr. Scott Leon earned his PhD in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University in 2002. The primary aim of his research is to improve mental health services for children and adolescents, particularly for youth in the child welfare system. Mental health services are delivered to children and adolescents in a variety of contexts, ranging from individual psychotherapy to residential treatment and psychiatric hospitalization. An evolved system of care delivers the most appropriate and effective services to youth depending on their clinical presentations, social environments, and strengths. One of his areas of research involves determining how people make decisions about when children should be psychiatrically hospitalized. This research allows us to determine how often children are hospitalized appropriately (i.e., they demonstrate suicidal behavior) or inappropriately (i.e., they do not demonstrate any serious risk to themselves or others). When youth are not offered services that match their needs, we can provide the appropriate feedback to providers and administrators in the system of care as a point of departure for continuous quality improvement efforts and better mental health outcomes.
"You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need."
~The Rolling Stones
- Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, Northwestern University, 2002
- B.A., University of California, San Diego, 1995
The primary aim of my research is to evaluate programs and policies designed to promote positive outcomes for youth in the child welfare system. Youth in the child welfare system often come to care with a wide range of significant social, emotional, developmental, and educational needs. Policies that are initiated by state and federal agencies to address these needs must be properly evaluated to ensure they are having the intended effect.
For example, I am currently evaluating a federally funded project entitled “The Recruitment and Kin Connections Project”, an initiative designed to establish lifelong family permanency opportunities for youth in child welfare. Unfortunately, when youth enter the child welfare system, it is common for them to lose contact with their relatives. The Recruitment and Kin Connections Project hired a team of highly experienced child welfare professionals and trained them in the state-of-the-art methods for how to locate family members, and how to engage these family members to play vital roles in youths’ development while in the child welfare system (e.g., as a foster parent, mentor, support). My evaluation is employing an experimental design to compare the intervention group (n=250) and a control group (n=250) on youths’ placement permanency, mental health, strengths, attachment, and self-esteem outcomes.
Current thinking regarding mental health policy recognizes that mental health services are delivered to children and adolescents in a variety of contexts, ranging from community-based services to residential treatment and psychiatric hospitalization. A major focus of my research program has examined the appropriateness and effectiveness of mental health services delivered to youth in the child welfare system at each of the major levels of care: Community-based care, residential treatment, and psychiatric hospitalization. My recent work with graduate students and colleagues involving community-based care has studied the effectiveness of a wrap-around program for 2,000 youth in Illinois’ child welfare system (e.g., Dunleavy & Leon, 2011), and the impact of a child’s proximity to mental health and positive youth development services in the community on placement stability (Weiner, Leon, & Stiehl, in press). My recent research involving residential treatment has studied the effect of frontline staff ratings of organizational climate on children’s mental health outcomes (Jordan, Leon, Epstein et al, 2009), and the interaction of staff personality traits (Big Five) and children’s mental health presentation on worker burnout (Leon, Visscher, Sugimura et al, 2008). At the highest level of care in the system, psychiatric hospitalization, I recently completed a longitudinal study of 800 youth throughout their stays in psychiatric hospitals. By measuring their psychiatric acuity on a daily basis, we have been able to study youths’ patterns of recovery in treatment and the ways in which these patterns vary across hospital units. We are currently working on several manuscripts involving these data.
In pursuit of a recently developed research interest, I am currently conducting several studies on the relationship between Implicit Self Esteem (ISE) and psychopathology. ISE is a construct in psychology, developed over the past 20 years, which has been defined as "the introspectively unidentified (or inaccurately identified) effect of the self-attitude on evaluation of self-associated and self-dissociated objects" (Greenwald & Banaji,1995). More succinctly, it can be thought of as the experience or representation of the self in the unconscious register. ISE has been distinguished from Explicit Self Esteem (ESE), the experience or representation of the self in the conscious register, in dozens of studies. Both forms of self esteem predict important outcomes, yet these two forms of self esteem are consistently poorly correlated. Comparisons between implicit and explicit self esteem have been studied recently by clinical psychologists, but this work is nascent, with the majority of research focusing on differences between explicit and implicit self esteem in depression, narcissism, and eating pathology. My current research seeks to study differences in explicit and implicit self esteem across a broader range of clinical phenomena, such as antisocial traits, borderline personality traits, and avoidant personality traits. For example, I recently completed a study to determine if the ISE and ESE constructs and their interactions significantly predict clinical scores on the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMI-III).
Weiner, D.A., Leon, S.C., & Stiehl, M.J. (in press). Demographic, clinical, and geographic predictors of placement disruption among foster care youth receiving wraparound services. Journal of Child and Family Studies.
Dunleavy, A.M. & Leon, S.C. (2011). Predictors for resolution of antisocial behavior among foster care youth receiving community-based services. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 2347-2354. pdf
Jordan, N., Leon, S.C., Durkin, E., Epstein, R., & Helgerson, J. (2009). The effect of organizational climate on child outcomes in residential treatment. Residential Treatment for Children and Youth, 26, 194-208.
Leon, S.C., Visscher, L., Sugimura, N., & Lakin, B.L. (2008). Person job match among frontline staff working in residential treatment centers: The impact of personality and child psychopathology on burnout experiences. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 78, 240-248.
Sieracki, J.H., Leon, S.C., Miller, S.A., & Lyons, J.S. (2008). Individual and provider effects on mental health outcomes in child welfare: A three level growth curve approach. Children and Youth Services Review, 30, 800-808.
Leon, S.C., Ragsdale, B., Miller, S., & Spaccirelli, S. (2008). Trauma resilience among youth in substitute care demonstrating sexual behavior problems. Child Abuse & Neglect, 32, 67-81.