James Topitzes, PhD

Social Work

Dr. James "Dimitri" Topitzes earned his Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006. For several years both before and after earning his doctorate, Dr. Topitzes worked in a clinical social work capacity for Waukesha County's Department of Health and Human Services. In 2008, Dimitri joined the faculty of the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He teaches trauma counseling to master’s students and philosophy of science to doctoral students.

Dr. Topitzes has conducted research in the following substantive areas: the long-term effects of child maltreatment and other adverse childhood experiences; interventions aimed at preventing or treating early psychological trauma; and the long-term impacts of early childhood interventions. He has also studied the social determinants of health, tracking the influence of educational experiences and childhood traumas on behavioral health outcomes.

In 2013, Dr. Topitzes helped found the Trauma-Informed Care Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He served as the program director until 2016. Currently, Dr. Topitzes teaches a number of courses within the certificate program, including an innovative offering titled Community Building and Mindfulness.

In 2009, Governor Jim Doyle appointed Dr. Topitzes to the Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board. He served on the board until 2014, fulfilling the role of the grants committee chairperson from 2011 to 2014. Through intermittent grant review service, Dr. Topitzes maintains a formal relationship with the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board.

Dr. Topitzes values university-community partnerships as a vehicle to bridge the gap between social work research and practice. He maintains a close working relationship with several community collaborators to help improve direct practice programming. He served as co-principal investigator for Project Connect, an intervention study designed to reduce problem behaviors among foster children exposed to early child maltreatment. Based on the success of Project Connect, Dr. Topitzes teamed up with Dr. Joshua Mersky and leaders at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin to launch the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being. Dr. Topitzes serves as the Clinical Director for the Institute, which is devoted to improving the lives of low-income children and families through research, practice and policy.


  • Ph.D., Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006
  • M.S., Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999
  • M.A., Spirituality, Holy Names College, 1992
  • B.A., Psychology, Harvard University, 1988

Professional Interests:

  • Long-term effects of child maltreatment
  • Interventions for preventing or treating child maltreatment and early life trauma
  • Evaluation of innovative mindfulness programming for justice populations

Recent Grants:

  • 2019-2021: Bader Philanthropies. Isabel & Alfred Bader Fund. $120,000. Trauma-Informed Employment Services I and II. Role: Principal Investigator.
  • 2016-2021: Wisconsin Partnership Program, UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Community Impact Grant. $1,000,000, PI: Conor Williams. Improving Health through Enhanced Work. Role: Academic partner lead evaluator and trauma counseling specialist.
  • 2014-2017: Youth-Oriented Substance Abuse and Trauma Counseling Training Program. Total Funds: $1,050,000. Source: Health Resources and Services Administration. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. Role: Co-Investigator and Trauma Counseling Specialist.
  • 2013-2016. SBIRT Training for Substance Misuse Program at UW-Milwaukee. Total Funds: $900,000. Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Role: Co-investigator and Trauma Counseling Specialist.
  • 2012: A Feasibility Study on Employment and Non-Custodial Fathers with Children on Welfare. Total Funds: $13,000. Source: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. Role: Co-investigator.
  • 2012: Milwaukee County Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood Project. Total Funds: $35,000. Source: Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance. Role: Co-investigator.
  • 2011-2013: Developing Home Visiting in Wisconsin through Shared Practice and Mentoring. Total Funds: $315,000. Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. Role: Co-investigator.
  • 2011-2013: Project Connect: Adapting PCIT to Foster Care. Total Funds: $300,000. Source: National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Role: Co-investigator and clinical director.

Professional Affiliations:

  • National Association of Social Workers
  • Society for Prevention Research
  • Society for Social Work Research
  • American Public Health Association
Institute of Educational Sciences
  • Society for Research in Child Development

 Professional Work:

  • Article Referee:
    • CHEST
    • Child Abuse & Neglect
    • Journal of the Society for Social Work Research
    • Journal of Pediatric Psychology 
    • Public Health

Select Recent Publications | Book Chapters:

  • Topitzes, J., Mersky, J. P., & Reynolds, A. J. (2017). Maltreatment prevention programming in early childhood: A review of models delivered in center-based settings: In R. Alexander (Ed.), Research and practices in child maltreatment prevention: Societal, organizational, and international approaches: Volume 2 (pp. 185-202). St. Louis, MO: STM Learning, Inc.

Select Recent Publications | Journal Articles:

  • Topitzes, J., Mersky, J. P., Mueller, D., Bacalso, E., & Williams, C. (in press). Implementing trauma screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment within employment services: A feasibility trial. American Journal of Community Psychology.
  • Mersky, J.P., Topitzes, J., & Britz, L. (in press). Promoting evidence-based, trauma-informed social work practice. Journal of Social Work Education.
  • Goldstein, E., Topitzes, J., Brown, R. L., & Barrett, B. (in press). Mediational pathways of meditation and exercise on mental health and perceived stress: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Health Psychology.
  • Topitzes, J., Grove, T., Meyer, E. E., Pangratz, S., & Sprague, C. M. (2019). Trauma-responsive child welfare services: A mixed methods study. Journal of Child Custody, 16, 291-312.
  • Topitzes, J., Berger, L., Otto-Salaj, L., Mersky, J. P., Weeks, F., & Ford, J. D. (2017). Complementing SBIRT for alcohol misuse with SBIRT for trauma: A feasibility study. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 17(1-2), 188-215.
  • Mersky, J.P., Janczewski, C.E., & Topitzes, J. (2017). Rethinking the measurement of adversity moving toward second-generation research on adverse childhood experiences. Child maltreatment, 22, 58-68.
  • Topitzes, J., Pate, D. J., Berman, N. D., & Kirchner-Medina, C. (2016). Adverse childhood experiences, health, and employment: A study of men seeking job services. Child Abuse & Neglect, 61, 23-34.
  • Voith, L. A., Topitzes, J., & Reynolds, A. J. (2016). Violent victimization among disadvantaged young adults exposed to early family conflict and abuse: A 24-year prospective study of the victimization cycle across gender. Violence and Victims, 31(4), 767-785.
  • Mersky, J. P., Topitzes, J., Grant-Savela, S., Brondino, M. J., & McNeil, C. B. (2016). Adapting parent-child interaction therapy to foster care: Outcomes from a randomized control. Research on Social Work Practice, 26, 157-167.
  • Mersky, J. P., Topitzes, J., Janczewski, C. E., & McNeil, C. B. (2015). Enhancing foster parent training with parent-child interaction therapy: Evidence from a randomized field experiment. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, 6, 591-616.
  • Topitzes, J., Mersky, J.P., & McNeil, C. B. (2015). Implementation of parent child interaction therapy within foster care: An attempt to translate an evidence-based program within a local child welfare agency. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 9(1), 22-41.
  • Mersky, J. P., Topitzes, J., & Reynolds, A. J. (2013). Impacts of adverse childhood experiences on health, mental health, and substance use in early adulthood: A cohort study of an urban, minority sample in the U.S. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37, 917-925.
  • Topitzes, J., Mersky, J. P., Dezen, K. A., & Reynolds, A. J. (2013). Adult resilience among maltreated children: A prospective investigation of main effect and mediating models. Children and Youth Services Review, 35, 937-949.
  • Topitzes, J., Mersky, J. P., & Reynolds, A. J. (2012). From child maltreatment to violent offending: An examination of mixed-gender and gender-specific models. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27, 2322-2347.
  • Mersky, J. P., Topitzes, J., & Reynolds, A. J. (2012). Unsafe at any age: Linking childhood and adolescent maltreatment to delinquency and crime. Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency, 49, 295-318.
  • Merksy, J. P., Topitzes, J., & Reynolds, A. J. (2011). Maltreatment prevention through early childhood intervention: A confirmatory evaluation of the Chicago Child-Parent Center preschool program. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 1454-1463.
  • Topitzes, J., Mersky, J. P., & Reynolds, A. J. (2011). Child maltreatment and offending behavior: Gender specific effects and pathways. Criminal Justice & Behavior, 38, 492-510.
  • Topitzes, J., Mersky, J. P., & Reynolds, A. J. (2010). Child maltreatment and adult cigarette smoking: An examination of a long-term developmental model. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 35, 484-498.
  • Mersky, J. P., & Topitzes, J. (2010). Comparing the emerging adult outcomes of maltreated and non-maltreated children: A prospective longitudinal investigation. Children and Youth Services Review, 32, 1086-1096.
  • Mersky, J. P., Topitzes, J., & Reynolds, A. J. (2009). Chronic neglect: Prediction and prevention. Protecting Children, 41(1), 67-77.
  • Topitzes, J., Godes, O., Mersky, J. P., Ceglarek, S., & Reynolds, A. J. (2009). Educational success and adult health: Findings from the Chicago Longitudinal Study. Prevention Science, 10, 175-195.
  • Reynolds, A. J., Mathieson, L., & Topitzes, J. (2009). Can early childhood intervention prevent child maltreatment? A review of research. Child Maltreatment, 14, 182-206.

Curriculum Vitae