UMD-PRC Investigator Profile: Elizabeth "Liz" Aparicio
Deputy Director for Clinical Training and Intervention, Dr. Elizabeth Aparicio (she/her), is an integral member of theUMD-PRC). As a community-engaged, clinically trained public health social work researcher and scholar, Dr. Aparicio specializes in addressing the mental, sexual and reproductive health needs of youth in and formerly in foster care and youth experiencing homelessness. She brings the important lenses of trauma-informed care and the reproductive justice framework to inform and test mental health and sexual and reproductive health interventions for trauma-affected and marginalized children, youth and families.
Dr. Aparicio’s main work with the PRC includes collaborating with her colleagues Drs. Richard Shin and Mia Smith-Bynum to develop and implement a simulated client protocol to test the PRC’s multilevel intervention for mental health organizations and therapists. Her expertise aligns with the PRC’s focus, as LGBTQ+ youth are heavily overrepresented in the foster care system and among the population of youth experiencing homelessness. Thus, Dr. Aparicio explains, “these subpopulations of the LGBTQ+ community are in particular need of better services to address the trauma they've experienced are in need of better services to address the trauma they've experienced.” In collaboration with the PRC, she is also studying the mental health and sexual health needs of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care.
In her roles as an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health and Community THRIVES Lab director, Dr. Aparicio has authored several recent publications around youth experiencing homelessness or in foster care, sexual health and LGBTQ+ youth. She identifies a few major themes from her most recent work. First, youth experiencing homelessness and youth in foster care are very interested in addressing their sexual health and are contending with many competing priorities when doing so. Second, flexible, non-judgmental, trauma-informed interventions that address both those giving and receiving care are more likely to be successful. Finally, in doing this work, you must assume that a sizable percentage of the youth you are serving will be LGBTQ+, which will mean considering and fighting for LGBTQ+-related research needs.
For example, Dr. Aparicio’s team had to go back and forth with their Institutional Review Board to convince them that sexual orientation and gender identity questions were necessary on demographics forms for all participants so that they could describe who was in their sample. In the Fostering Healthy Relationships project with youth in foster care, they found that nearly all of the young women in the study were lesbian or bisexual. This prompted both a detailed analysis of their experiences, described in a recent publication led by PRC member John Salerno, and a second phase of the study, which focuses on hearing experiences of the intersecting sexual health and mental health needs of LGBTQ youth in foster care through in-depth virtual interviews. The key takeaway of all of her publications, Dr. Aparicio says, “is that youth have amazing ideas to share with us regarding improving services and policies. All of my work is designed to bring youth voices into the conversation about the practices and policies that affect them using rigorous, community-engaged methods.”
Dr. Aparicio reminds us that, “One third to one half of foster youth are LGBTQ+. We cannot research foster youth without researching LGBTQ+ youth in foster care.” Thus, LGBTQ+ youth need to be placed with affirming families and to be working with affirming social workers and other professionals who are on their own journeys to continue to learn how best to care for their youth in their care or on their caseloads, engaging in self-reflection and continuing education. She calls on prevention research to help achieve her dream, “for foster care to never be necessary, for any child—that youth will be safe, affirmed, and well cared for in their families and communities of origin.” She also calls for policies and practice at every level to make that dream possible, affirming that, “all of our children need to be in environments that are safe, loving, and affirming so that they can confidently discover and grow into who they are becoming as young people, freely and without fear. This includes opportunities to take chances, make mistakes, and try again.”