Fall Faculty Highlight: Michelle Guarino, MSW, LCSW

Flowers in bloom alongside the Court of North Carolina.

Take a moment to think about the people who work daily to educate our children. You’re probably thinking of many professions, such as teachers, coaches, or school guidance counselors. But, have you considered many of the professionals that work behind the scenes to better our children’s lives?

Meet Professor Michelle Guarino, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker focused on gang-affiliated/high-risk youth and faculty member for the NC State Department of Social Work. She began her career as the Youth Intervention Counselor for the New Hanover County/Wilmington City Gang Task Force; a first of its kind position employing a civilian within a law enforcement entity to intervene with gangs, gang members and families. In August of 2019, she was recognized as the 2019 NCGIA Civilian of the Year for her continued work with gang-involved youth and families across North Carolina.

Currently, she serves as the Director of Program Development for Gang Free NC (GFNC), an organization committed to developing, promoting, and sustaining state-wide strategies to reduce criminal gangs and the associated criminal activity, through the development of effective prevention, intervention and diversion programming for youth and their families, as well as, community awareness and education. 

For six years, Michelle worked as a Crisis Negotiation Team Supervisor, managing both sworn law enforcement and civilian Masters-level clinicians. These teams often, “negotiate with a person or group of people actively involved in a criminal, domestic, or mental health incident,” said Michelle. “Assisting with criminal profiling further solidifies the need for social work within law enforcement. This work assesses the behaviors, emotions, and personalities of suspected criminal offenders, basing their judgments off experience, psychopathologies, behavioral patterns, as well as, methodologies and clinical knowledge.”

Meanwhile, she has been an instructor for Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for nearly seven years, focusing on active listening, de-escalation, crisis intervention, and role play.  The National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that, “the lack of mental health crisis services across the U.S. has resulted in law enforcement officers serving as first responders to most crises.” A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is an innovative, community-based approach to improve the outcomes of these encounters.

With years of expertise and experience in this area, Michelle is ready to tackle her next challenge.

As of 2018, Michelle Guarino became a Governor-appointed task force member for the NC Center for Safer Schools and Chairperson of the Gang Prevention/Intervention subcommittee. Her appointment to this task force will aid in developing, implementing, and piloting the Center’s first Crisis Intervention Training focused on Youth (CIT-Y). According to Michelle, “A vital piece of the social work profession is continued learning, training and effective use of resources.” As a result, the Center offers training presentations and programs geared toward school safety, with the assistance of field experts and collaborative partners. These programs include but are not limited to, Youth Mental Health First Aid, Bullying, Crisis Intervention Team Training: Recognizing Youth Related Emotional & Mental Health Crisis, and Critical Incident for School Faculty and Staff. Michelle has said that the “knowledge and acquisition of appropriate resources can be the single most defining moment in the social worker/client therapeutic relationship and thus the client’s treatment and plan.”

In addition, the Center offers resources to create collaboration and connection, as well as, research, data reports for program development/implementation, and access to funding opportunities. Their most recent and ongoing project, a school safety resource guide, will be released after final reviews.

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