Four graduate students in the University of Missouri’s School of Social Work— Mackenzie Duckworth, Sierra John, Elisabeth Lee and Megan Owens—are in the process of creating a Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board for Boone County.

Picture of Mackenzie Duckworth, Sierra John, Elisabeth Lee and Megan Owens in the Missouri Capitol

Graduate students in the University of Missouri’s School of Social Work are in the process of creating a Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board for Boone County. They are pictured with Representative Martha Stevens, a graduate of the Social Work master's program.

Through practicums and service-learning courses, the School of Social Work has partnered its students with organizations like the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office, True North and the Missouri Coalition on Domestic and Sexual Violence. These partnerships allow students to gain hands-on, relevant experience in a variety of social work fields.

“What I like most about graduate school is learning by gaining real-world experience,” said Duckworth, who grew up in Kansas City. “I enjoy refining my skills and working closely with Mizzou faculty because the professors are very supportive and encouraging.”

As a part of the School of Social Work’s master’s program, John had the opportunity to work at True North, which is a comprehensive domestic and sexual violence victim service program. Her role at the agency involved court advocacy, case management and collaboration. In addition, she and her three fellow classmates have been able to travel to the state capitol in Jefferson City to advocate for the creation of a Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board in Boone County.

“This review board would provide technical assistance for the reviewing of domestic violence related deaths with the underlying objective of preventing them in the future,” said John, from St. Louis. “It would also help with preserving the safety of battered women and holding accountable both the perpetrators of domestic violence and the multiple agencies and organizations that come into contact with the affected parties.”

The graduate students have participated in advocacy days surrounding domestic and sexual violence issues. They currently are conducting outreach and research on fatality review boards in order to propose specific recommendations to the organizations interested in their development. Fatality review boards have been shown to be instrumental in reducing overall female homicides by sexual and domestic violence. They also are successful in identifying and addressing gaps in services that might currently exist but have failed to prevent some of the deaths of victims.

The four students are in their first year of the master of social work program. They are beginning their social work journeys by developing their skills as practitioners and advocates.

“These students have captured the essence of advocating for individuals whose homicides were the result of unmet needs at both service and policy levels,” said Kathleen Preble, assistant professor in the School of Social Work. “The students are working to arm service providers with information on how fatality review boards are structured and operated. They are leaving behind a set of recommendations for providers on what similar states and communities have done that could be replicated in Missouri.”

The students currently are working on getting the policies and processes set up so that a review board can be created for Boone County if legislation is passed that allows them to do so. Senate Bill 976 has been introduced in the state legislature to create the processes for establishing and operating a review board.

“There is no real opposition to the bill. The only struggle is awareness,” said Owens, who is from St. Louis. “Most legislators are unaware of the bill, so if more constituents call to voice their support than more awareness will be raised.”

The experiences and connections that these students have made during their time at Mizzou will help propel their careers post-graduation.

"I chose Mizzou because I wanted to further my education in order to be a better asset to children and families in the social work arena,” said Lee, who grew up in Nebraska. “The people here that I have made great relationships with will be successful social workers as well as my friends for life.”

The School of Social Work is in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Editor’s note: March is recognized as Social Work Month