Professor, Department of Social Work and Equitable Community PracticeJoined USJ: 1986
Natural Born Helpers
Robert Madden’s undergraduate social work students tend to care deeply about social justice and are non-judgmental, from the day they enter the classroom. That is why the field of social work “fits who they are as a person,” Madden explains. His mission is to guide their evolution from “natural helpers” to “professional helpers.” That is achieved by teaching the research-based approach to helping people make their own decisions, along with the ethics of professional practice. Students learn the theory, come to understand the methodology and – most importantly – how best to apply their skills and knowledge. “It is a relationship-based profession with research-based practices,” Madden says.
Teaching from the Frontlines
Madden’s teaching is informed by his own considerable breadth of experience and vigorous involvement on the frontlines, working with families and the legal system. For more than a decade, he has been a volunteer member of the Board of Directors at the nonprofit The Children’s Law Center of Connecticut, working with staff representing children in family court cases and helping to develop an effective and responsive mediation program. He is involved with high-conflict custody dispute cases, where there is often grave concern about the well-being of the children that are involved. He works intensively with parents, providing education focusing specifically on how parental clashes adversely impact children and offering strategies to enable parents to “let go of past conflict “ in order to lessen the harm to their children.
“Teaching is always informed by your practice,” Madden says. “I am able to provide contemporary examples and real-life circumstances, share my struggles as a professional, and explain how I have grown as a practitioner.” His first-hand illustrations – with names omitted – enriches the classroom experience for students, strengthening their preparation. Students’ internships continue along the same lines, integrating field experience with class assignments, so that graduating students “are really ready” to enter the field or continue towards an advanced degree. As Director of the Social Work program, he takes great pride in the caliber of the department at USJ, with colleagues committed to the profession and their students, and a vast network of community providers (program graduates) they tap into to benefit students.
A Broader Approach
Madden’s decades of extensive experience at the intersection of social work and the law have also led to another initiative, one that he is particularly well-suited to pursue. He works with the legal community to encourage reforms in law school education, as well as more immediate steps. “I work with practicing lawyers to emphasize that in being fully responsive to clients, there are non-legal outcomes that can be as important as legal remedies.” It is what Madden describes as “therapeutic jurisprudence” – an approach that is centered on doing what is best for the family, drawing on the tenets of each profession and the shared commitment to justice.
J.D., University of Connecticut
M.S., Columbia University School of Social Work
B.A., Providence University