Get to Know a TACFS Partner: The University of Texas Medical Branch, ​Center for Violence Prevention


Meet Dr. Leila Wood- an avid Violence Prevention researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch Center for Violence Prevention and dear friend of our organization.  Since a teenager, she has been working in domestic violence sexual assault services, as a result of her mother’s service to her local domestic violence shelter. Dr. Wood holds a BSW, an MSW, and a PhD in social work. In addition to her extensive education, she has worked as a therapist for teenagers, a parent educator, and a prevention specialist addressing core domestic violence. Her advanced knowledge and experience working in direct child care services have connected her through many facets to improving the child welfare system and other vulnerable populations directly impacted by domestic and sexual abuse. Dr. Wood is committed to furthering her understanding on how to prevent future violence from happening across the lifespan.

As a team of diverse and passionate researchers, Dr. Wood and the UTMB team are committed to using rigorous science to address the expressed needs of their community, especially as it relates to widespread violence prevention.  The UTMB team also makes it a priority to incorporate many trauma informed principles in how they approach research and evaluation.

In the current world state, Dr. Wood expressed concerns targeted at a lack of housing available for at-risk/vulnerable youth and  families, including youth who have aged out of foster care (shelter beds, temporary housing, permanent housing), and an increased number of families and children at-risk for involvement in the child welfare system as a result of both housing instability and increased domestic abuse cases. She also expressed concerns related to a lack of  text and chat messaging platforms and hotlines available for individuals at-risk for abuse. 

In response to these concerns, currently Dr. Wood and her team are dedicated to working on several projects that intersect with the child welfare system. To name a few….

  • She is particularly passionate about studying the impact of housing on family wellness and stability. UTMB is evaluating several different  domestic violence housing programs  to understand how housing impacts safety, access to resources, and family wellness. Their goal is to understand the extent to which housing prevents future violence from happening within families.
  • In partnership with our organization, and Texas Council on Domestic Violence, Dr. Wood and the team at UTMB are embarking on a year long project to unpack data to understand the landscape of children’s services in domestic violence agencies in Texas. This finalized report, set to be released to the public September 2021, will allow Texas stakeholders to better understand the needs and availability of supports for children exposed to domestic violence and their adult survivor parents in child-focused agencies.
  • In sync with the limitations presented by COVID-19, Dr. Wood is also working on a project evaluating the impact of chat and text hotlines for child abuse, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. She emphasizes the importance of this means of communication for at-risk individuals who are unable to safely reach out in other ways. To best conduct this research, Dr. Wood has been evaluating the Austin SAFE Alliance’s hotline,  SAFEline. 

Among all of these projects and initiatives, Dr. Wood and her team are also largely dedicated to studying and addressing the racial inequities that are consistently re-presenting themselves in our criminal justice system and in our country as a whole. 

“We have value on looking at social structures that contribute to the oppression of vulnerable populations and we are committed to social justice…Inherent in our research design is  examining racism as a health disparity,  and also xenophophia, and transphobia…we’re accounting for those things in our data collection and striving to have trauma informed and culturally inclusive research projects.”
Dr. Leila Wood, BSW, MSW, PhD

The Center for Violence Prevention's mission is to prevent violence by collaborating with academic, public, and governmental partners to develop and implement evidence-informed screening, prevention, and intervention programs. Dr. Wood and the UTMB team encourage community stakeholders to reach out for more information on their prevention work and for resources related to research and evaluation addressing these issues.