NMHU Native American Social Work Studies Institute Partners with UNM School of Medicine 

Highlands University social work students develop case review skills in intimate partner violence 

January 9, 2023

Photo of Melissa Riley

Dr. Melissa Riley, Director of the Native American Social Work Studies Institute at NMHU

The Native American Social Work Studies Institute (NASWSI) is working in partnership with the University of New Mexico School of Medicine to provide social work students with an opportunity to develop case review skills in addressing intimate partner violence homicides.

The partnership with UNM is focused on Native American communities in New Mexico who have been impacted by intimate partner homicide. While there are university programs dedicated to historical and anthropological perspectives of Native cultures, there are very few programs dedicated to the current needs of tribal communities. Programs like this one are one way to bolster the skills tribes need to exert sovereignty and to address ongoing concerns such as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

According to Dr. Melissa Riley, Director of NASWSI, “We don’t have many social workers in our tribal communities, so there are gaps in the field when it comes to tribal communities.”

The NASWSI is supported through tribal resolution by the All Pueblo of Council of Governors and the Navajo Nation and receives funding from the New Mexico State Legislature. The partnership between the NASWSI and UNM School of Medicine is the result of state and tribal leadership support to provide social work students with education and training needed that will enhance their work in tribal communities.

“Our focus at NASWSI was to be able to develop research to inform social work practices, to work on legislation that benefits native children and families, and to be able to provide coursework and learning opportunities for social workers, social work students, and tribal communities,” Riley said.

Riley has been a member of the New Mexico Intimate Partner Death Review Team for over ten years and brings her expertise of the homicide case review process to the partnership with UNM.

“There’s a continuous message from those meetings that we don’t have enough training and understanding with helping professionals such as social workers to understand how to navigate through a case, how to ask critical questions, and how to ensure that they stay in their own lane, especially in the event of an investigation,” Riley said. “Some cases have fallen through the cracks because they have been jeopardized by somebody who didn’t follow process.”

The partnership provides social work students with real-life skills aimed at increasing prevention and intervention services in the field of intimate partner violence. While students participating in case review sessions are not seeing real case reviews, the mock case files are true to the details of real case files she has reviewed in the past. The detailed case files provide skills-based activities for students that help them apply some critical thinking about what a multidisciplinary approach to these cases might look like.

“This is something that will benefit students and the community for years to come. I could not have done this on my own; I really needed the help and support of the UNM School of Medicine and they were very gracious in agreeing to do it,” Riley said.