Lavetsky, who chairs the rehabilitation and human services (RHS) degree program at Abington, reviews hundreds of pages of documents including presentencing reports and applies risk assessment tools to each case. He then provides his professional opinion on whether the defendant meets the criteria to be deemed a sexually violent predator. His determination is provided to the court for final resolution.
“I’ve been extremely impressed by the leadership of the board. It has been a really collaborative process, and it is extremely rewarding,” he said, noting there are approximately 50 other members of the board statewide.
Lavetsky’s work with juvenile sex offenders started shortly after he earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. His first job was working at a facility for adjudicated youth.
“I kept an open mind, and I had an affinity for working with a population that has a huge stigma attached to it. When I lived in Florida, I was one of the few people in that state to treat this population,” he said.
“The hardest part of the work is that there’s so many layers to it. You assist them with behavioral issues and personal trauma, but there’s also often family dysfunction and drug and alcohol abuse. When a child presents with these issues, the family unit is often dysfunctional. The focus is on the offense, but there are often a lot of other things going on that have contributed to this happening,” he said.
Teaching at Abington has been a great opportunity to marry my clinical, real-life work and bring it into the classroom. ... The students learn from hearing stories about cases and clients, vignettes with real people.
—Michael Lavetsky , program chair, rehabilitation and human services
Lavetsky holds a master’s degree in counselor education and is a licensed professional counselor in three states, a certified school guidance counselor in two states, and he is a national certified counselor. He brings a wealth of experience in the field to students in the RHS program.
“Teaching at Abington has been a great opportunity to marry my clinical, real-life work and bring it into the classroom including using things such as assessment instruments. The students learn from hearing stories about cases and clients, vignettes with real people who are de-identified, of course,” he said.
Lavetsky teaches a three-credit RHS seminar class to train Abington students as peer counselors through the campus’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The peer counselors learn basic counseling skills and are supervised by the licensed mental health professionals from CAPS. The free and confidential peer counselor program was developed through a partnership between CAPS staff and RHS faculty.
“With the peer counselors, we are giving them graduate school-level skills. It’s been neat to do that. Post-doctoral students we work with are surprised Abington students know this much,” he said.
Lavetsky praised the diversity of professional interests among RHS majors, who are required to complete a 15-credit, 600-hour internship.
“A large contingent wants to work with populations on the autism spectrum or those with intellectual challenges. Some plan to continue their education and work as occupational or physical therapists. There are also those interested in counseling or working in rehab centers and clinics and sports psychology. We as faculty see what their different interests are, and say let’s explore,” he said.
Lavetsky’s research interests include the efficacy of telehealth counseling; co-occurring disorders and children and adolescents; forensic mental health; forensic risk assessment; public stigma, legislation, and youthful offenders; and the efficacy and legality of civil commitment programs for offenders. He has worked with Glenn Sterner, assistant professor of criminal justice and an affiliated faculty of the Criminal Justice Research Center at University Park, on a project assessing clergy abuse victims.
“We have some data on specific grooming and offending patterns among clergy, but we also examined on a larger scale the institutional factors, systemic reasons, what the fail-safes are for that,” he said.
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 23 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics and more.