From left to right: Justin Hodge, Viola Vaughan-Eden and Charles Lewis smile for the camera. Vaughan-Eden holds an award.
Viola Vaughan-Eden, who earned her Ph.D. in social work from the VCU School of Social Work, holds her award for Outstanding Individual in Academia from the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. At left is Justin Hodge, CRISP academic director, and at right is Charles Lewis, Ph.D., CRISP director. (Courtesy photo)

VCU School of Social Work alum Viola Vaughan-Eden honored by Capitol Hill advocacy institute

She continues to earn recognition for her focus on child maltreatment and forensic social work.

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Viola Vaughan-Eden, a Ph.D. alum of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work, has been earning national acclaim for more than a decade as an educator, researcher and advocate focusing on child maltreatment. The recognition continued this spring as the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy honored her as its 2023 Outstanding Individual in Academia.

CRISP advocates for the social work profession with federal policymakers, and Vaughan-Eden has appeared twice on Capitol Hill as a panelist for congressional briefings. She earned her doctorate at VCU in 2003 and since 2014 has been a faculty member at the Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work at Norfolk State University, where she is the Ph.D. program director.

“I am humbled by this award and eternally grateful for the work the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy does for the profession,” said Vaughan-Eden, who was honored in March at CRISP’s annual Social Work Day on the Hill. 

The VCU School of Social Work’s Denise Burnette, Ph.D., knows Vaughan-Eden through Burnette’s role as president of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work.

“It is difficult to imagine a more deserving recipient for the institute’s Outstanding Individual in Academia award,” said Burnette, who is the director of the VCU doctoral program and also serves as the Wurtzel Endowed Chair in Social Work.

“Of course, Viola’s extensive teaching, mentoring, research and administrative activities represent major academic contributions to the field. But her dedication and influence are also noteworthy for their meaningful extension to communities, practitioners and policymakers in child welfare,” Burnette said. “We are deeply grateful for the depth and reach of Viola’s contributions, and we are incredibly proud to count her among our distinguished doctoral alums.”

Vaughan-Eden is also president and CEO of UP For Champions, a nonprofit in partnership with the UP Institute, a think tank for upstream child abuse solutions. As a clinical and forensic social worker, she serves as a consultant and expert witness in child maltreatment cases, principally sexual abuse. 

“As clinical social workers, we often see research and policy outside our scope. But as someone who has been fortunate to study and work in practice, research and policy, it is clear we must integrate all three,” Vaughan-Eden said. “As a licensed clinical social worker, forensic social worker and professor of social work, I have had the opportunity to lecture around the world. However, I also realized that if I was going to make a greater impact on society, I needed to move upstream. So, when I was asked to lead a local child abuse nonprofit, I could not pass up the opportunity.” 

Vaughan-Eden’s career path began as a master’s student at Norfolk State, where she worked in mental health at a psychiatric hospital while earning her degree. “I felt blessed to receive my M.S.W.,” she said. “It opened the door for some amazing opportunities as a clinical social worker.”    

A fellowship allowed her to continue her academic career, pursuing her Ph.D. at VCU.

Working in the area of child maltreatment, Vaughan-Eden became connected with the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) and the National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence (NPEIV) – she now serves as president emerita of both organizations. She also is past president of the National Organization of Forensic Social Work (NOFSW).

Vaughan-Eden received APSAC’s Outstanding Service Award in 2019 and has lifetime achievement awards from the National Association of Social Workers – from the national chapter (2020) and the Virginia chapter (2012). The National Children’s Advocacy Center presented her with the Outstanding Service Award in Mental Health in 2011, and she also has served as a Council on Social Work Education Leadership Scholar in 2019. 

“Dr. Vaughan-Eden was instrumental in helping me and so many others access the field of forensic social work through her leadership and mentorship as the former president of NOFSW and through the Journal of Forensic Social Work,” said Susan McCarter, Ph.D., the Bonnie E. Cone Professor of Civic Engagement at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who earned a Ph.D. from the VCU School of Social Work in 1997 and a master’s degree from the College of Humanities and Sciences in 1993.

“I am so grateful for Viola’s fierce child advocacy, expert testimonies, thoughtful policymaking, dedicated scholarship and dear friendship.”

Vaughan-Eden serves on the editorial board of several peer-reviewed journals, is one of the editors-in-chief of the six-volume 2022 NPEIV Handbook on Interpersonal Violence and is a child welfare adviser to the George Washington University National Family Violence Law Center.  

“I never realized how many more adventures were in store for my career,” she said in reflecting on her time at VCU in the doctoral program.

“As a social work professor who teaches social policy, I often remind my students that real change can only come from understanding the lived experiences of stakeholders; otherwise, we risk harmful unintended consequences,” Vaughan-Eden said. “As president of one and president emerita of two national nonprofit organizations, I continue to work toward ending racism and implicit bias in the field of child maltreatment. If we are to make lasting progress in society, we must move upstream and partner with colleagues such as Charles Lewis, Ph.D., director at CRISP, to give a voice to the most vulnerable.”