Dr. Leon currently serves as the Associate Director of the School of Social Work at UCF and in August 2019 will assume the Interim Director role for the School. With an extensive background in mental health, she has combined her clinical, training and research experiences from her years in New York City and in Florida to help others understand the impact of trauma in very young children and understand the social and emotional needs of children from birth through the first five years. She currently teaches a graduate course in Infant Mental Health and another course on Child Trauma. She is a nationally recognized expert on child welfare with an emphasis on the intersection between infant mental health, trauma and the child welfare of children under the age of 5. Based on Dr. Leon’s research, clinical, training and teaching experiences in infant mental health, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization of Sesame Street invited her to serve as an Advisor for their next phase of their social impact work in helping children and families, especially those most vulnerable, cope with traumatic experiences. Until recently, she served as the Chair of the National Association of Social Workers Child Welfare Specialty Practice Section, an appointment she held from 2010 until 2018.
Since 2000, her research grants/contracts have totaled over $3 million dollars. Her research on parenting interventions and program evaluations has included various community based agencies in Central Florida serving children and families. She developed and received funding for a seven year successful university-community collaborative project that provided community based mental health services to children and families. As part of that grant funding, she developed an assessment tool (the CALF) for assessing areas of life functioning in various client systems. Child & Family Social Work published an article on the CALF. Her work with children and families appears in journals such as the Journal of Social Service Research, Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, and Early Childhood Development and Care. She has presented her work on children and families at numerous state, national and international conferences. Her research on parenting interventions and child program evaluations has included various community based agencies in Central Florida serving children and families. Dr. Leon developed a guidebook translated in Spanish, English, Arabic and Burmese, Babies & toddlers in a new country: A developmental guide for parents new to the United States for immigrant and refugee families served by Catholic Charities.
She has extensive administrative and clinical experience in child and adult psychiatric hospitals and prior to joining the School of Social Work at the University of Central Florida she served as the Executive Director of Psychiatry at Winter Park Memorial Hospital and was in private practice. The National Association of Social Workers recognized her as an outstanding university teacher and she previously received the University of Central Florida Women Making History: The Faculty Women Prominence Project award. She passionately believes that every child deserves a healthy social and emotional start in life, free of illness and trauma within a safe, loving and affirming environment that encourages the child’s optimal mental health and developmental functioning.
- Ph.D., Social Work, New York University
- LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- Pediatric health and mental health
- Infant mental health
- Chronic illness in children and parental stress
- Latino children and families