Leading Texas Scholar Is New Dean of BU School of Social Work
Barbara Jones says that leaving one state ranked dead last in access to mental health services for a state ranked second will be a refreshing change
Despite so much attention in the job market on the need for more data scientists, software developers, and IT professionals, arguably the need may be even greater for an underappreciated, low-paying, non-IT job: social worker.
For Barbara Jones, announced on June 13 as the new dean of BU’s School of Social Work by Provost Jean Morrison, the timing of her appointment comes at a critical moment in the social work field: The mental health crisis emerging after the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for more mental health care and greater access to telehealth; states are struggling to fill social worker openings; and the US Department of Education has increased funding to create and fill more social worker positions in K-12 schools.
Jones, associate dean for health affairs at the University of Texas Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work and chair of the department of health social work at UT Austin’s Dell Medical School, will start at BU August 1, replacing Jorge Delva, who will join the SSW faculty after a sabbatical.
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Jones calls herself an “East Coast girl,” and says BU, routinely ranked among the top social work programs in the country, has long impressed her. During her time in Texas, she also served from 2004 to 2011 as core faculty on the Initiative for Pediatric Palliative Care at Boston Children’s Hospital. Another draw in coming to BU, she says, was that two research centers here align with her own areas of interest and research: the Center for Innovation in Social Work & Health and the Center for Aging and Disability Education & Research.
“Those centers are known in the community of social work, and I’m thrilled to be joining them,” Jones tells BU Today. “As I was looking at opportunities, it was always BU for me. I could see myself there—incredible colleagues, staff, and there is so much that BU is doing that draws me in. A commitment to diversity and social justice. A lot of people throw those words around—BU has a real commitment to that. Not just the School of Social Work.”
Jones, who was hired after a national search, comes to BU from a state that has taken very different approaches than that of Massachusetts on cultural issues like diversity, equity, inclusion, LGBTQ rights, and mental health care. Texas lawmakers recently approved a ban on DEI education at colleges and universities, and despite a recent uptick in mental health funding, the state ranked last in 2022 in providing access to mental health services, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit advocacy group.
In Massachusetts, which ranked second among all states in that same survey, Governor Maura Healey has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, greater DEI education, and awareness of mental health issues.
“It’s a struggle here, a different part of the country,” says Jones, who will move this summer with her wife, while their daughter finishes college (studying social work) in Texas. “That’s been an adjustment for me. But people on the ground here, they are fighting. I’ve loved my colleagues. They are very inspiring. I am ready to be in a community where we can assume we will work together for everyone. That feels refreshing.”
I am ready to be in a community where we can assume we will work together for everyone. That feels refreshing.
Jones has served on the faculty at UT Austin since 2004. One of the nation’s top scholars in the field of psychosocial oncology and palliative care, she has held a number of national leadership roles, including as past president of the Association of Pediatric Oncology Social Workers and as a founding board member and secretary of the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network. Her research focuses on finding better care for children, adolescents, and young adults with cancer and their families. More recently she has focused on palliative care, pediatric oncology social work interventions, and adolescent and young adult cancer survivors.
In her letter announcing Jones’ appointment, Morrison also had words of praise for Delva.
“The School of Social Work he [Delva] leaves is stronger and positioned, both internally and externally, for growth and greater relevance as one of a premier producer of influential scholarship and as a training ground for dynamic and diverse social work practitioners, leaders, and scholars,” she wrote.
Morrison highlighted Jones’ track record of working across disciplines and collaborating through both her teaching and research.
“Throughout our extensive discussions, it was quickly evident that Dr. Jones’ energy, impressive track record of cross-disciplinary collaboration and innovation in teaching and research and unique ability to listen and bring people together around common goals were the ideal characteristics we seek to lead the School of Social Work to further excellence,” Morrison wrote.
Jones, in addition to her post as dean, will hold an appointment as a tenured professor in the School of Social Work clinical practice department.
“I am a passionate advocate for social work, as a provider of mental health, for community engagement,” Jones says. “I was a clinical social worker for 15 years. The opportunity to train the next generation—I have never lost that fire, to lift up social work.”