New center to study child-welfare issues, analyze agency data

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.



UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1996/03-07-96