cropped-elspeth-at-gade-2012.jpgDr. Slayter is a Professor at Salem State University’s School of Social Work who conducts research related to disability, addiction and child welfare services.  She teaches courses related to social policy, evaluation, research methods, disability, forensic social work, evidence-based practice and field education. Dr. Slayter coordinates the School of Social Work’s Certificate Program on Equity Minded Practice for supervisors and managers at Massachusetts’ Department of Children and Families. She is also the co-chair of the National Association of Social Workers – Massachusetts Chapter’s Disability Justice Shared Interest Group.

Dr. Slayter obtained both a master’s and doctoral degree in social policy from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University where her scholarship focused on the disability and health policy arenas.  During her time at Heller, Dr. Slayter was a pre-doctoral trainee supported by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) and an American Fellow supported by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).  Dr. Slayter received her Master’s degree in social work at New York University in 1995 after completing her undergraduate work in history (with a focus on women’s studies, medical history and medical anthropology) at Macalester College in 1990.

Prior to her doctoral work, between 1995-2000, Dr. Slayter practiced as a forensic social worker in a variety of court-based settings in New York City. These settings included Washington Square Legal Services, where Dr. Slayter partnered with New York University law students in the co-representation of parents and caregivers charged with child maltreatment. Dr. Slayter went on to work as a social worker and educational consultant for the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Division in Brooklyn, where she partnered with guardians ad litem in the representation of children on cases related to child protection, juvenile justice and special education law. Dr. Slayter also worked as a social worker in partnership with public defenders at The Bronx Defenders, an early adopter of the “holistic advocacy” model of criminal defense. In these roles, Dr. Slayter developed a special interest in the behavioral health concerns of people with disabilities (especially people with intellectual and developmental disabilities).


Dr. Slayter’s research agenda addresses disability, addiction and child protection services research in the following areas:

–Implementation of the “dignity of risk” concept for people with disabilities

–Access to care, quality of care and pathways to and through health and social care services for people with disabilities in the United States

–Human service workforce development in the disability and child welfare sectors

–Child protection social work with immigrant children and families in the United States (with Dr. Katrin Kriz, Emmanuel College)

Dr. Slayter’s research has been published in a range of peer-reviewed journals (see selected publications, below).  Additionally, Dr. Slayter has presented her research at a range of domestic and international conferences in both sociology, social work, psychology and public health.

Elspeth presenting


Within the School of Social Work at Salem State, Dr. Slayter has held positions such as the interim chair of the department, chair of the diversity, equity and inclusion committee, chair of the assessment task force, chair of the School’s research sequence, former chair and current member of the School’s curriculum committee and chair of the School’s technology committee. Dr. Slayter also chaired the ad-hoc doctoral program committee in summer and fall 2012.  Dr. Slayter’s university-wide service has included membership on the ADA/504 committee, the NEASC re-accreditation sub-committee on strategic planning as well as committees focused on the University’s website development, parking challenges, universal design in instruction and graduate-level research.


2021                            Nominee, Martin Luther King, Jr, Award, Salem State University

2016-2019                  Nominee, Salem State University Distinguished Teaching Award

Summer 2017             Fellow, Summer Research Institute, National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Spring 2017                 Finalist, Distinguished Teaching Award, Salem State University

Fall 2013                     Fellow, Advanced Leadership in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, University of Massachusetts Medical School 

2010                            Early Career Trainee and Lecturer, Winter Institute on Community Based Participatory Research, National Institute of Mental Health

2008                            Early Career Trainee, Spring Research Institute on Community-Partnered Suicide Prevention, National Institute of Mental Health

2004-2005                  American Fellow, American Association of University Women

2000-2003                  Pre-Doctoral Trainee, National Institute of Alcoholism and

Alcohol Abuse (N.I.A.A.A.), National Institutes of Health


I received a B.A. in History (with a focus on medical history, medical anthropology and women’s studies) from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My choice to study medical history and anthropology was largely informed by my involvement as an intern at both the Upper Midwest Women’s History Center (now part of The Clio Project) and with Cultural Survival, Inc. I also did a small study on cross-cultural conflict between western biomedically-focused health care providers and (then-new) Hmong immigrants from Laos (an issue which has since been well-described in the wonderful book by Ann Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down). Inspired by travel to the former Soviet Union in 1984 and 1985 (Russia and Georgia) and Spain, I also studied these two languages while at “Mac.”

My first job out of college was with the University of Minnesota YW (a YWCA affiliate ) as a Program Coordinator within a unique collective stewardship structure. At the U-YW, I worked on community organizing projects related to the elimination of racism, sexism and homophobia. After leaving Minnesota, I went on to work as a Development Associate for Cambridge College, a small, adult education-focused college in Cambridge, Massachusetts. These post-college foundational experiences further informed my professional commitment to social justice.

Later, I studied for an M.S.W. from New York University’s Shirley M. Ehrenkranz School of Social Work, where I trained with Metropolitan Hospital Center’s HIV/AIDS inpatient team and with New York University School of Law’s Family Defense Clinic. At the Clinic, I partnered with law students representing parents, grandparents and foster parents charged with abuse or neglect in the New York City Family Courts. While a social work student, I was also involved with the Student Social Work Action Coalition (SSWAC) which was active in the anti-welfare reform movement of the mid-1990s.

After receiving my M.S.W., I practiced as a forensic social worker from 1995-2000. During this time, I first partnered with attorneys at the Juvenile Rights Division (JRD) of the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn, New York . At JRD, attorney-social worker teams represented youth in special education settings, youth charged with juvenile delinquency or status offenses (i.e. CHINS, or PINS cases in Massachusetts parlance) and subject children on abuse, neglect, custody and/or adoption cases. Work conducted at JRD consisted of investigation, assessment, case management, systems navigation and both education law and court-based advocacy.

Later, interested in building a bridge between family court and criminal court practice, I went on to work for The Bronx Defenders, an alternative, community-based public defender office in the South Bronx. Here, I partnered with attorneys representing adult criminal defendants using a “holistic advocacy” co-representation approacharticle by Robin Steinberg on this topic). At the Bronx Defenders, my work involved crisis counseling and assessment, intensive case management, inter-system navigation with regard to child protection concerns and both court and community-based advocacy.

During this time, I began to specialize in working with the disability community members who had co-occurring behavioral health conditions and became interested in the challenges of inter-system collaboration. Interested in moving beyond individual-level advocacy, I decided to build my research and policy analysis skills. I moved back home to Boston and later received a Ph.D. in social policy (focusing on behavioral health services research) from Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management where I was a National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (N.I.A.A.A. ) pre-doctoral trainee and an American Fellow with the National Association of University Women (A.A.U.W.). While a doctoral student at Heller, I worked on projects related to childhood injury among Medicaid beneficiaries , access to health insurance among Spanish-speaking immigrants to the United States and substance abuse among the disability community. Building on my most challenging problems at The Bronx Defenders, my dissertation research examined access to substance abuse treatment among people with intellectual disabilities.