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Volume 13 | May 2016 

A Letter from Our Director
Every day here at the Children and Family Research Center we work to monitor children's safety, permanency, and well-being. These three words are a mantra in child welfare work, and it's important to continually reflect on what they truly mean. In our work, safety and permanency can be measured in simple ways. Monitoring well-being, however, is more challenging and nuanced. The adults who know most about a child's well-being--her parents, teachers, doctors--are also the hardest to reach. 

We have collected well-being data in the past, most recently from ISCAW, the Illinois Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, which was part of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being. This data offered a detailed look inside the well-being of children and was vital to our efforts to monitor children in Illinois. After ISCAW ended, we were without this source of well-being data. 

Now, because of a recommendation from the B.H. Expert Panel, we will again collect well-being data. We are very excited to begin this project. Read more about it below. 

As we plan for that project, we continue our ongoing evaluation efforts. The next version of the annual B.H. report is being drafted and will be sent to the plaintiff and defendant attorneys for review. Our Oregon and Wisconsin evaluations continue as well. It's been a busy spring here at CFRC, just the way we like it.

We hope you enjoy our May newsletter!
Tamara Fuller, Ph.D., Director, Children and Family Research Center

Project Updates and News

Well-Being Data Collection Efforts

In response to the work of the B.H. Expert Panel's recommendations, CFRC is planning to begin collecting well-being data for children in Illinois. The last time this data was collected was in 2012, as part of ISCAW, the Illinois Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being. CFRC's Dr. Ted Cross has been appointed to chair the committee planning this exciting new project, and we look forward to reporting more on the committee's work and using the data to monitor children in care in Illinois.  

Child Death Review Teams Research Briefs

The Illinois Child Death Review Teams (CDRTs) review child deaths in Illinois, and each year CFRC writes a report detailing this work. To help distribute this information to a wider audience, we have produced three research briefs that highlight the important work of the CDRTs. The first gives an overview of the CDRTs and their work. The second offers highlights from this year's report. And the third describes trends in child deaths in Illinois for the last 10 years. You can find these briefs on our website and via the linked text above. 

Data Center Introductory Video

Launched in 2015, the Center's Outcome Charts Tool can be a bit intimidating at first glance.  A great way to get oriented is via a new video guide produced by the tool's creator, Dan Phillips.  In just under four minutes, you'll get familiar with the types of data the tool can generate, and the controls you click to do so.  View the video here, or dive right into the Outcome Charts tool on the website here

Presentation on Sexual Assault

CFRC's Dr. Ted Cross was invited to present his research at the First Responders Summit held April 14-15 by the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, HI. Dr. Cross shared key insights from his National Institute of Justice-funded research on DNA and the criminal justice response to sexual assault.  He described DNA's significant relationship to obtaining convictions and emphasized the critical contribution survivors make when they undergo a forensic medical examination. Dr. Cross presented with national experts Anne Munch and Dr. Jennifer Freyd. You can read more about their presentation here

Upcoming CQI Conference

Last year's CQI conference held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was such a success that we're bringing it back this October! Our Foster Care Utilization Review Program (FCURP) team has finalized the Save the Date and Request for Proposals, and has emailed those out to previous attendees and an expanded list of potential future participants. This year's conference will be held at the iHotel in Champaign on Oct. 17-18 and will feature keynote speaker Debra B. Natenshon, a national expert on client outcome management. For more details, including how to join an upcoming conference call, please visit the conference's website or contact Jennifer Eblen Manning. We hope to see you there!

Project Updates

We are in full swing writing the annual B.H. report. All three chapters in this year's upcoming report are now being edited, and we continue discussion on the most important results and what areas of the report to highlight for readers. 

Work continues on our evaluation projects in Wisconsin and Oregon. For Oregon, responses to our parent surveys continue to arrive, and we are currently developing the protocol for parent phone interviews. Last month, we successfully concluded the online staff survey and are beginning our analysis of the data. Our partner, Pacific Research and Evaluation, also completed the second round of site visits.
We also continue to collect data for the Title IV-E waiver evaluation of Wisconsin's Post-Reunification Support (P.S.) Program. We continue to collect parent surveys as well as data from caseworkers in the 33 counties that have implemented the P.S. Program. Each month, we compile the data for the state to provide continual feedback on report completion, most frequently used services, and services that were needed but not received by families. We've also prepared a draft of the Interim Evaluation Report which will be submitted to the Children's Bureau this month. 

Inside CFRC

In this newsletter, we talk with Dr. Judy Havlicek, assistant professor at the University of Illinois School of Social Work and faculty affiliate here at CFRC, about her recent research on Illinois' Youth Advisory Boards and the ways these boards help youth in care advocate for improvements to the child welfare system. 

Q. First, what are YABs, and how do they work? 
Youth advisory boards are foster youth-led advocacy and leadership programs. They started as early empowerment programs in the late 1980s (like California Youth Connection), and today, 47 states operate at least one type of YAB. It's the predominant way that states include foster youth in making decisions about their lives and the lives of other kids in care. The boards bring together foster youth to discuss issues and concerns in out-of-home care and to work towards making child welfare system improvements. 

Q. How did you become interested in studying them?  
I was asked to supervise a regional YAB meeting that was held here at U of I. For the first year, I had a hard time making sense of what was going on. They seemed chaotic to me. But the youth seemed to be having a good time, so I was intrigued. The second year that I attended the monthly meetings, I saw two foster youth in elected positions change in pretty incredible ways over time. One became more mature and confident, and the other went from being pretty shut down to engaging with others. At the end of the year, I asked the two facilitators how this change happened and that was when I learned about all that goes on behind the scenes. The boards do a lot to support foster youth and facilitate skills for leadership and advocacy. 

Q. How did you go about your research? 
First, I tried to get as much background info as I could on youth advisory boards. At the time, there was very little published about them. I also met with a couple of professors here at Illinois: Dr. Reed Larson, to ask about his work with youth development programs; and Dr. Nancy Abelmann, for help outlining what an interview with YAB members should look like. After that, I conducted 33 interviews with current and former elected officers of the statewide YAB and 13 interviews with state and private agency YAB facilitators. I also attended state and regional YAB meetings to observe the general process. 

Q. We know your work is ongoing, but are there any findings you can share with us?  
My research team has spent the past 2 years analyzing the interviews. We started with the facilitator interviews to understand the structure of the YAB as a youth-led empowerment program. We were particularly interested in how participation in a YAB cultivates foster youths' voices. It turns out that there are two parallel processes that support the development of foster youths' voices. One process focuses on building trusting relationships between youth and adults and among peers. The second process has to do with professionalization--helping foster youth develop professional skills for public speaking, dressing professionally, professional conduct, team work, etc. The personal and professional aspects of cultivating the voices of foster youth have important implications for child welfare systems where caseworkers may rely too rigidly on professional boundaries at the expense of building a caring and respectful relationship with a young person. Our findings suggest that both are really critical to supporting the success of foster youth. 

Q. What's next for your research with the YABs? 
The next step is to test the effects of participation in a YAB on youth, facilitators, and child welfare systems. Foster youth are typically viewed as in need of help and not necessarily able to help others. But their experience with the system provides valuable insights. My hunch is that when youth find a sense of purpose helping others, that will shape the future direction of their lives in really powerful ways. We need more research to understand who benefits the most and what aspects of participation are critical.

What We're Reading

Our CFRC Journal Club continues to flourish. Here are a few articles we've read for our monthly discussion group.

The New Yorker has been prominent in our Journal Club readings in the past few months. Jill Lepore published a look inside child welfare that sparked conversation and debate around our office and in U of I's School of Social Work. Dr. Lepore writes on such a wide array of topics, but we hope she will regularly return to child welfare. 

We also read Matthew Desmond's article on poverty and housing instability in Milwaukee. It's an informative look at the cycles of housing poor people go through--from eviction to new lease to eviction again. Dr. Desmond's new book on the topic is called Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Neither of these New Yorker articles were uplifting, but the attention they bring to important social issues is vital. For those of you working in child welfare, we highly recommend them. We also hope you'll pass the articles along to others to help raise awareness.

Finally, we turned our attention to academic literature and read Susan M. Love and colleagues' article "Social Media and Gamification: Engaging Vulnerable Parents in an Online Evidence-Based Parenting Program" published in Child Abuse & Neglect. This study investigated a new way to help parents engage with an established parenting skills program. The social media and gaming elements were popular among participants, and the program's positive effects were observed even 6 months after participation. 

Do you have any reading suggestions for us? Let us know via the contact information below.

Connect with Us

We want to hear from you! You can contact CFRC at or via phone at (217) 333-5837. Visit our website at Follow the School of Social Work on Twitter @UofISocialWork or like the School on Facebook.

Thanks for reading! Look for our next newsletter in August.