By Craig Chamberlain The problems of abused and neglected children will be getting new attention at the UI. A new Children and Family Research Center is being established at the School of Social Work on the university's Urbana-Champaign campus, the result of a recently concluded agreement with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The state agency is responsible for providing child welfare services to abused and neglected children - including placements in foster care. As part of the agreement, researchers at the center will collect and analyze data from the DCFS child-welfare service system, producing regular reports on the agency's performance, said Jill Doner Kagle, dean of the School of Social Work at UIUC. The reports will provide information the department can use to improve its services to Illinois children and families. The center's researchers also will carry out broader research, Kagle said, offering opportunities for scholars and students from social work and other disciplines on the UIUC campus, as well as from other universities and agencies in Illinois, to study issues related to child welfare. The new agreement will draw on the school's strengths, Kagle said. "We have had a long-time commitment to child-welfare issues, and we have faculty who have national reputations in this area." "This is a collaboration that will benefit DCFS because it will draw on the expertise of researchers throughout the state on behalf of the problems that children and families face today," Kagle said. "It also provides opportunities for our faculty and doctoral students to further their research and make a real contribution to the ultimate goal of ensuring that every child in Illinois has a safe, permanent and loving home." Mark Testa, DCFS research director, a professor at the University of Chicago and interim director of the research center, noted that the number of foster children in Illinois has increased from 21,000 in 1990 to more than 49,000 today. The agreement to create the new center grew out of reforms initiated by DCFS to handle the rapid influx, and to improve the system, he said. "The research center will build on these efforts by focusing more attention on client outcomes, such as child safety, permanency of family relations, and family and child well-being," Testa said. For example, researchers will look at how many children in foster care are able to return safely to their families, and how many find permanent homes through adoption or other means. In starting the research center, the School of Social Work will make use of $200,000 in state funds and $273,000 awarded by the Chicago Community Trust, a private foundation. DCFS has committed on-going funding to cover the center's operating costs. Additional funds to support specific research projects will be sought by the center's staff from government, corporate and private sources.