Marleen Wong, PhD, MSW, has been called the “architect of school-safety” programs by the Wall Street Journal. Thousands of children and families have benefited from her dedication, commitment, and passion for disaster recovery, trauma and mental health. Wong is often the first expert contacted by the Department of Education and other federal agencies when there is a school shooting or national disaster.
She was part of a team that traveled to Las Vegas, NV in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a concert in 2017 to help the city rebuild and recover. As the former director of the School Mental Health Unit for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), she was instrumental in implementing two evidenced-based interventions developed in collaboration with RAND and UCLA called The Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools and the Psychological First Aid: Learn, Listen, Protect, Connect. These interventions were utilized as a part of essential professional development for over 800 LAUSD psychiatric social workers.
Wong translated her scientific research with RAND and UCLA into practice that not only helped clinicians, parents, and teachers but also many students who were exposed to trauma and unable to access trauma-informed mental health services. As senior vice-dean for Field Education at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, she supported MSW students’ skill development through evidenced-based interventions such as motivational interviewing, problem-solving therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Further, she pioneered the incorporation of trauma-informed practices into the field education curriculum so that MSW students could have additional training to help children and families in crisis. Lawndale Unified School District is now called a trauma-informed school district and hosts the Teaching Institute (TI) that hosts more than 40 MSW interns.
This district has become a national model for other school districts and its model has been presented at local, state, and national conferences. Under Wong’s leadership, mentorship, and advocacy for the field department, faculty have thrived and, as a result, more than half of the instructors have received and/or are in the process of pursuing their doctoral degrees. Through her vision for field education, many students now have opportunities to intern at non-traditional field placements such as in dentistry, public safety/law enforcement, and employee assistant programs (EAPs).
Wong also pioneered the social workers’ curricula at the TI, echoing medical models for physician residencies. She created and executed the field manual to protect the social work profession, incorporated memoranda of understandings with over 7,000 field agencies, promoted faculty and students within field education, and collaborated among all faculty lines, stakeholders, and with various professional networks.
For 14 years, Wong was the Stein/Goldberg Sachs Endowed Professor of Mental Health, Senior Vice Dean of Field Education, Executive Director of the USC Telehealth Clinic, and Clinical Advisor to the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. In her role, she oversaw MSW field education for both campus-based and virtual programs, and was appointed to oversee the USC Military Cohen clinic and Telehealth programs, which provide virtual mental health services to clients in California.
Wong is recognized internationally for her expertise in the areas of disaster recovery, trauma, and mental health. She has developed mental health recovery programs and crisis disaster training for school districts and law enforcement in the United States, Canada, Israel and Asia. She was the former director of Mental Health, District Crisis and Threat Assessment Teams, and Suicide Prevention Programs for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). In this role, she created and co-developed district policies, programs, procedures, and protocols for school mental health and crisis intervention.
She expanded School Mental Health clinics and established the first full scope Medi-Cal reimbursement contract in the U.S. in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. This allowed the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the nation, to implement School Mental Health clinics on school campuses and to provide much-needed mental health services to thousands of children in underserved communities. She developed evidenced-based practices that are commonly used for childhood trauma in schools such as the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools and Psychological First Aid: Listen, Protect, Connect.
Beyond her tenure with LAUSD, since 2002, Wong has been the director and principal investigator for the LAUSD Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Schools and Communities, National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative. Wong also served as the director of School Crisis and Disaster Recovery for the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, UCLA Geffen Medical School and Duke University from 2001-2005.
She also was a US Department of Justice Curriculum author and trainer from 1999- 2005. She was the keynote at the NASW California Chapter annual conference, educating thousands of social workers on trauma informed schools, and continues to be a social work expert when it comes to disaster recovery, trauma, and mental health.
She also contributes her social work perspective by sitting on local, state and national committees such as on the National Advisory Council on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Institute of Medicine Board on Neuroscience and Behavioral Health. She participates as a member of the National Center for School Mental Health (University of Maryland), the Council on Social Work Education/National Council of Field Educators and Expert Advisory Panel, the National Native Children's Trauma Center (University of Montana), the American Academy of Pediatrics National Expert Panel, and the Blue Ribbon Panel on School Safety (LA County).
Wong was born and raised in Fresno in Central California. Her grandmother was originally from China and immigrated to the United States. Her immigration history and challenging experiences as a child influenced her desire to become a social worker.
She received her undergraduate degree in Social Welfare from California State University of Fresno in 1969, followed by her MSW at the University of Southern California in 1974, and PhD from the California Institute for Clinical Social Work/Sanville Institute, Berkeley, CA. Her doctoral research focused on childhood trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).Grounded in her academic knowledge and research, she used her platform as a social worker to elevate the importance of mental health in schools. She helped others prepare for, and respond to, crises. It is her belief that without safe and supportive environments children and their families cannot thrive.
Wong retired in 2021 from USC to spend more time with her family in Hawaii. During her retirement, she will also continue her work in mental health and disaster recovery and provide support locally, nationally, and internationally when needed. She is a proud mother of two children.
Significant Recognition and Awards
In 2020, Wong was inducted to the Hall of Distinction by the California Social Welfare Archives at the 18th Annual California Social Work Hall of Distinction Induction Ceremony for her lifelong contributions to the social work profession.
In 2013, she received the prestigious California Social Welfare Archives’ George D. Nickel Award for Outstanding Service for over four decades of dedication working with traumatized children. Wong also received the NASW-CA Lifetime Achievement Award for her lifelong commitment to the social work profession.
Wong was appointed by City Attorney Mike Feuer to the Los Angeles School Safety Blue Ribbon Panel. This panel was developed in response to incidents of gun-related violence across schools locally and nationally.
Wong acted as the Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator on a number of grants, including the USC Trauma Treatment and Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope, and Wellness in Schools grant. She collaborated with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network/SAMHSA, RAND, UCLA Health Services Research Center, and the LAUSD Mental Health Service as principal investigator of this grant. Wong also was a co-investigator on a grant to build capacity to create highly supportive military-connected school districts with the Department of Defense.
- Preventing Secondary Traumatic Stress in Educators | Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America (2015). Authors: Stephen Hydon, Marleen Wong, Audra K. Langley, Bradley D. Stein, and Sheryl H. Kataoka
- A Web-Based Platform to Support an Evidence-Based Mental Health Intervention: Lessons From the CBITS Web Site | Psychiatric Services (2014). Authors: Pamela Vona, M.A. Pete Wilmoth, M.S.W., M.P.A. Lisa H. Jaycox, Ph.D. Janey S. McMillen, Ph.D. Sheryl H. Kataoka, M.D., M.S.H.S. Marleen Wong, Ph.D. Melissa E. DeRosier, Ph.D. Audra K. Langley, Ph.D. Joshua Kaufman, L.C.S.W. Lingqi Tang, Ph.D. Bradley D. Stein, M.D., Ph.D.
- School Intervention Related to School and Community Violence | Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America (2014). Authors: Lisa H. Jaycox, Bradley D.Stein, Marleen Wong.
- Research on Social Work Practice (2013). Authors: Dexter R. Voisin, Marleen Wong, and Gina Miranda Samuels
- A pilot study of psychological first aid | BMC Psychology (2013). Authors: Marizen Ramirez, Karisa Harland, Maisha Frederick, Rhoda Shepherd, Marleen Wong, and Joseph E Cavanaugh.
Please see the following link for more of Wong’s publications: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marleen-Wong