Illinois Child Welfare

Journal Articles

Volume 1 • Number 1 (2004)


Introducing Illinois Child Welfare
For practitioners, program managers, policy-mak-ers, and researchers in the field of child welfare, the obstacles to achieving effective child welfare service delivery for children and families are complex, entrenched, and can seem at times to be insur-mountable. We are all too familiar with the perva-siveness of poverty and discrimination, unequal access to education and medical care, and obstacles in the way of providing quality care for children and families in need. While some countries such as Finland have made tremendous strides in the reduc-tion of poverty and provision of quality social welfare services, child welfare service systems in other areas of the developed world are continually plagued by inadequate commitment of resources. In such a context one may justifiably ask, ‘What can yet anoth-er journal accomplish?’

In considering that question, it is important to rec-ognize that social advances have always required a combination of scientific knowledge, public educa-tion, and public commitment to bring social welfare discoveries to fruition. A journal can contribute to all three of these paths to social advance, and partic-ularly now. We live in a time of constructive, exciting innovation with regard to our understandings of human development, consciousness, and cross-cul-tural and global social service. These innovations have great significance for how we understand and address problems in child welfare, a potential multi-plied by our ability to learn from caregiving process-es around the world (e.g., Small, 1998).

One of the most important scientists of the 20th century, Nobel laureate brain scientist Roger Sperry, described the “revolution” that had occurred in the understanding of human nature and human devel-opment resulting from recent discoveries in brain science. Consciousness can no longer be thought of as intrinsically separate from, nor reducible to brain functioning, and while consciousness emerges from brain function, it also regulates important aspects of brain functioning (1993; see also Baars, Banks & Newman, 2003; Edelman, 2005). Describing impli-cations of this pathbreaking discovery for psycholo-gy, Sperry described several features that are impor-tant for the field of child welfare. He emphasized that human choices and values have a much more power- ful impact on our minds and bodies than had been previously recognized. Second, Sperry advocated for an understanding of science that is both wholeheart-edly based in humanistic values, and also applied in a very thorough-going way, without compromising rigor or conceptual depth. Beliefs that advocacy or applied studies are incompatible with science are no longer tenable. The tools of science – formulating problems for study, developing research design strategies, creating models and theories to advance our understanding, and providing evidence with which to improve our models – can and must be harnessed to improve services for children and their families.

…this turnabout in the causal state of consciousness abolishes the traditional science-values dichotomy. That we are in a new era today in respect to values is well recognized. ... Subjective human values, no longer written off as ineffectual epiphenomena nor reduced to micro-phenomena, become the most critically powerful force shaping today's civilized world, the underlying answer to current global ills and the key to world change. A different approach is opened also and a resolution offered for that age-old enigma, the free will-determinism paradox. …The implications become critical for scientific treatment of personal agency and social interaction. Overall we still inhabit a deterministic universe, but it is ruled by a large array of different types, qualities, and levels of determinism. (p. 879)

He concluded,

The sanctity of human life is perceived in a framework in which the very definition of human rights includes and depends on the rights and welfare of coming generations (p. 884).

Other contemporary researchers have conducted one of the foremost longitudinal studies of the impact of human caregiving relationships on children’s development of 8 2004 • Volume 1 Illinois Child Welfare and capacity for intimacy in romantic, friendship, and caregiving relationships across generations (Sroufe, Carlson, Collins, & Egeland, 2005). The noted child development researcher Colywyn Trevarthan (2001) summarized the past decade of child development research, emphasizing that infants come into the world with an intrinsic motive system highly sensitized to a “mutual self-other conscious-ness” that grounds the “cooperative intelligence” and “intersubjectivity” responsible for all psychosocial learning and development. He also concluded that studies from clinical and service fields are essential additions to laboratory research in order to improve scientific knowledge about human development. Bruce Perry (2002) and Michael Rutter (2003) illumi-nate the profound psychological and physiological impact that psychosocial trauma has on children, and thereby help us to reconceptualize previous assump-tions about the etiology of mental disorders, diagnos-tic categorization, and their treatability via caregiving relationships. Marion Solomon and Daniel Siegel (2003) provide evidence in favor of the power of therapeutic relationships to bring about constructive client change, even in the face of significant trauma. Contemporary scientists drawing on the last decade of research emphasize the powerful impact of the environment on the behavioral expression of genetic potential (Lewontin, 2000). The noted neuroscientist Michael Meaney (2001) and his colleagues (Weaver et al., 2004) point out that the quality of caregiving influences many aspects of genetic expression, rang-ing from learning capabilities, to responses to fear-some events, to the functioning of the immune and hormonal systems. Moreover, these effects of caregiv-ing can be transmitted across generations – so for instance baby rats and mice who received better care from a foster parent mouse or rat were not only more able to learn, less anxious, and more healthy; they also cared for their offspring using the better caregiving patterns they had received. If caregiving has such powerful effects for tiny rodents, the implications for human beings and the field of child welfare can be profound.

These important discoveries of the past decade illu-minate a path for a journal dedicated to the values of scientific advance and advocacy for the welfare of children and families. Indeed, Illinois Child Welfare was born of a perceived need, shared by human serv-ice practitioners and scholars, for a forum to share our understanding of problems and innovative solu-tions to those problems. Illinois Child Welfare aims to be a place to reflect upon and improve the quality of service we provide for children and families. Thinking about how to improve service quality leads to the recognition that one needs to:

• accurately identify and understand problems being treated,
• develop theories or models about how to understand and potentially solve those problems, and
• study and improve the effectiveness of service provision models and underlying theories.

This is not easily done in any scientific field, and arguably it is much more difficult to do well in a context in which there are no closed laboratory sys-tems. Instead, child welfare practitioners and scien-tists work within the complexities of many layers of systems and organizations, with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds, in the heat of pas-sionate feelings about how to bring about good caregiving, and dismay about maltreated children and parents in distress. It becomes all the more important, given such complexities, to have a forum in which to examine and talk about problems and the theories, evidence, and services that can help us improve the field.

Many practitioners, administrators, and policy-makers committed to improving child welfare serv-ices contributed their suggestions and thoughts about how a new journal could benefit the field. Illinois Child Welfare is a product of our combined commitment and dialogue, and in that sense repre-sents a community of people developing and shar-ing a common vision. Much appreciation is due to the members of the Editorial Boards for their invaluable inspiration, support, and guidance in developing and formulating Illinois Child Welfare’s mission and launching this inaugural issue. Daniel Fitzgerald, M.S.W., Special Assistant to the Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and Mark Testa, Associate Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Director of the Child and Family Research Center, have given steady and thoughtful support for this project. Deborah Major, L.C.S.W., the Editorial Associate, and Shyla Ford, M.S.W., the Editorial Assistant, have brought skilled insights and care, working far above and beyond the call of duty to make Illinois Child Welfare a reality.

The consensus of our efforts together has been that this new journal can be most effective if it fulfills the following four aims:

1. Contributes to constructively understanding problems service providers face:
A journal can create a forum that is free of the over-simplification and blame that often occurs in media coverage of problems in child welfare. Instead, Illinois Child Welfare aims to look deeply at what causes the social problems that result in the need for interven-tion, and when matters go awry, to examine why that occurs. While it is easy to look for simple causes – for instance, to blame one child welfare worker when faced with a tragic case outcome. It is both more accu-rate and more beneficial to understand the complex, less tractable underlying causes – such as the quality of support available through adequate education and manageable caseloads, and the financial commitment of citizens to allocating resources for children and their families. Our aim is that this journal will include studies of the complex causes that lead to problems present in child welfare programs, in an atmosphere of collaborative understanding rather than accusa-tion.

2. Focuses on knowledge with direct applicability to the needs of those caring for children and families:
In its commitment to applicable knowledge, Illinois Child Welfare draws from the tradition of William James’ pragmatic concept of truth as that which improves human welfare (1970). We need to know what kinds of services to plan and implement, from the moment-to-moment actions of a caseworker, to the program planning of a program director, through the resource allocation decisions of a legislative poli-cy- maker. Illinois Child Welfare aims to publish arti-cles that help us to know what programs to preserve and what changes to plan. By respecting all the dif-ferent ways of studying services, Illinois Child Welfare can present both in-depth understanding of moment-to-moment interactions between a case-worker and a client, and large-scale trends in families’ needs for and responses to particular services.

Another illustration of how essential applicability is to the journal’s mission is that articles will be sum-marized and provided, free of charge, to all parents involved with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, through their publication, Families Now and Forever. This excerpted version will also be available on the internet so families in other parts of the United States and abroad can benefit from the new knowledge.

3. Is interdisciplinary so as to bridge gaps between the professionals who collaborate in caring for children and families:
For some time now, an ecological approach to car-ing for children and families has become the common currency in child welfare, so that we all perceive the importance of conceptualizing children’s needs across the many systems of care: medicine, law, education, and psychosocial support. However, it remains chal-lenging to actually coordinate services across these different aspects of children’s lives. When they do have opportunities to interact, physicians, social workers, psychologists, educators, and lawyers often find they speak in technical languages that do not translate well across disciplines, and approach chil-dren using such different frameworks that it compli-cates understanding and service coordination. Such conditions decrease the efficacy and satisfaction of professional caregivers and cause avoidable losses to children and families. Yet given our shared values and commitments to children’s welfare, we have a base for bridging differences in language and technical skill so that communication and service planning can be bet-ter coordinated. To accomplish this aim, Illinois Child Welfare has multidisciplinary Editorial Boards and will continue to seek and publish articles from all the professionals involved in child welfare services.

4. Cultivates diversity of thought and cultural values, so as to foster understanding between peoples of different cultures:
To accomplish such a mission, we need the strengths of diversity – developing our options and creativity by learning from people living in different environments, creating different policies and pro-grams. Across the world in different contexts, creative solutions to profound problems in child welfare abound: whether they are free telephones for children to use to directly contact a child welfare worker in the United Kingdom, or a residential care program in which elderly residents care for children while their mothers are at work in Lithuania, or, as in this issue of the journal, a letter-writing psychosocial support pro-gram for children in Hong Kong. To maximize the benefits we can derive from thinking globally, Illinois Child Welfare has an international editorial board and will in every issue include perspectives from many cultures inside the United States and also from around the world. Furthermore, the journal will be available over the internet, at a rate that fits with lifestyles in countries outside the United States.

To date, no one journal accomplishes all the above aims, so Illinois Child Welfare can meet a significant need that has existed in the field of child welfare. In this inaugural issue, you fill find articles that com-bined begin to fulfill the mission of the journal.

In “Recognizing the Early Warning Signs of Chaos On The Campus: A Guide for Administrators of Residential Centers,” Robert Bloom, currently Executive Director of the Jewish Children’s Bureau, offers insights based on his several decades of experi-ence managing, evaluating, and planning residential treatment services. He describes how administrators at many levels of child welfare administration can prevent trouble by perceiving problems in their early phases, and how they can nip a crisis in the bud when it starts. Based on seasoned experience, his guidance is practical while retaining the important vision of the lifesaving value that residential care offers trauma-tized youth.

Martha and William Pieper apply their theory of child development, psychopathology and treatment, intrapsychic humanism, to one of the most impor-tant problems in contemporary child welfare services: helping foster and adoptive parents to understand and respond effectively to the self-defeating behavior of the traumatized children in their care. “Helping Foster Parents Manage the Addiction to Unhappiness in Their Foster Children: A New Approach to Preventing Placement Failures” offers a way to under-stand children’s self-defeating motives, and also describes how caregivers can respond to children’s difficulties with the aim of helping the children become happy, competent, and compassionate adults.

Bernice Weissbourd, one of the foremost pioneers in creating Family Support programs, brings her con-siderable wisdom to bear in recounting the history of primary prevention in this country and central issues in primary prevention today. As we look forward and plan, we can do so more effectively if we benefit from her perspective on the gains we have made as well as obstacles she envisions in the future. In addition to sharing the story of her motivation and contribu-tions, she summarizes primary prevention efforts today and demonstrates their effectiveness both from a cost-benefit standpoint, and in terms of the quality of life for children and families. She echoes and supports the mission of this journal with her rec-ommendation that we work not only to improve prevention programs but also to bring about change in our culture, moving away from narrow-sighted individualism and recognizing the impor- tance of policies that benefit all members of society over the long term.

One of the greatest obstacles that mandated reporters experience when contemplating whether they should make a child abuse report is anxiety about whether the evidence of child abuse or neglect is sufficient to protect them from the possi-bility of being sued, especially if their report is neither ‘indicated’ nor ‘founded.’ Theodore LeBlang's article is an exceedingly helpful and clear explication of this difficult subject. He charts a scholarly course through the obligation to report and the delicate task of ensuring one has the appro-priate evidence indicating that a report should be made. From one of the foremost scholars today in the field of medical ethics and medical humanities, this article will serve as an invaluable guide for mandated reporters faced with this important responsibility.

Among the most heartbreaking of childhood syn-dromes, SIDS has always puzzled pediatricians, health care professionals, child advocates, and par-ents. Yet this is an area in which systematic research can be most helpful in dispelling myths that blame parents, and helping parents and professionals respond to SIDS with prevention, understanding, and compassion. Written by Henry Krous and Roger Byard, leading scholars as well as highly expe-rienced pathologists, this article summarizes the considerable research about the diagnosis and pre-vention of SIDS, helping health care professionals and child advocates improve the accuracy of their diagnoses and their prevention work with parents.

Social policies always seem to have up sides and down sides, and weighing pros and cons is never easy. The more evidence we have about their impact, the more thoughtful we can be about the policy. In her paper Dorothea Epple, a very experi-enced clinician and scholar, uses her moving case history to look at the Adoption and Safe Families Act from a client’s and social worker’s perspectives. Readers providing care for severely traumatized parents with children in the child welfare system will find this article most insightful and inspiring. Professor Epple demonstrates that reflective com-mitment to a client despite the client’s expressed negativity and difficulties with child maltreatment can have a profoundly beneficial effect for that client and those with whom the client subsequently becomes involved.

In “Letters to my Uncle Long Legs,” Yeung Ka Ching and Garrie Yuk Ying Chau describe an innovative psy-chosocial support program conducted by letter-writ-ing between volunteers and children in Hong Kong. Children wrote to share their troubles, wishes for advice, and accomplishments to volunteers who served as their “Uncle Long Legs.” Creatively adapted to the Hong Kong context from the famous children’s book in which an orphan found comfort in writing to her Daddy Long Legs, this program was demonstrably helpful for the children, many of whom sustained long-term supportive relationships with their pen pal and then when they grew up, volunteered to do the same for a new generation. Instilling even more con-fidence in the effectiveness of such a program, Yeung Ka Ching and Garrie Yuk Ying Chau provide evidence for the program’s constructive impact in the form of both a case study and children’s descriptions of the helpfulness of the services.

Abused and neglected children commonly pres-ent a host of problems in the classroom, from diffi-culty paying attention to outright disruptiveness and even violence. It can be very helpful for teach-ers to be able to accurately discern when a child may have been abused and neglected, to know the indi-cators of when reports should be made, and to reflectively plan for how to help those children in the challenging context of a classroom with dozens of other children. Barbara Lowenthal reviews the research in this area and provides teachers with user-friendly and scholarly information they can use to tackle these challenging problems.

The increasing diversity of its clients is one of the greatest challenges facing child welfare systems in the United States. Seemingly ready answers based on stereotypes of any ethnic group always work against sound social services, whereas information based on in-depth understanding of a population’s needs can be genuinely helpful for practitioners and policy-makers. Comprised of people from so many different nationalities, the Latino population is also the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, and Latino children have unique needs relat-ed to their cultural heritages and languages. In this first paper in the series From the Advocate’s Desk, “Latino Population and Child Welfare Services: Reflections on Policy, Practice, and Research from the Latino Consortium Roundtable Discussions,” Luis Barrios, Layla Suleiman, and Maria Vidal de Haymes, leaders of the Latino consortium in Illinois, summa-rize data available about the needs of Latino families, the history of child welfare policy and service efforts, and recommendations for improving care for Latino children and families, insights that can be used by pro-gram planners and policy-makers to improve services to Latino families.

The task of evaluating the child welfare system of any state is daunting at best. How can this be done in a way that is scholarly, identifies problems and strengths accurately, and that affords benchmarks and recommendations for the future? In the inaugural paper for From the Program Director’s Desk, “Missing Children, Changing Populations and Unrecognized Needs: Why Governor Blagojevich’s Child Welfare Task Force was so Important,” Bryan Samuels describes the work of the Task Force that evaluated child welfare services in the state of Illinois in 2003. Using tools from research and policy analysis, the task force report provides a model that can be used and built on by program and policy-makers as they evalu-ate their services, troubleshoot, and plan for the future.

The book reviews and annotated bibliography sections of Illinois Child Welfare are an opportunity for dialogue about the latest research and resources available to child welfare scholars and service providers. In addition, every issue of the journal will contain an annotated bibliography that sum-marizes research about a difficult, controversial, and puzzling area in child welfare.

The book reviews in this issue address important global humanitarian topics. Lisette Piedra, who is both a researcher and a social work practitioner, reviews James Farmer’s pathbreaking work, Pathologies of Power, and she emphasizes the impact of systemic inequalities on health care of citizens from a global perspective. Emily Carroll brings her scholarship and considerable experience as a social worker to bear when she reviews Another Day in Paradise, contemplating the important question, “What is a humanitarian?”

In this issue’s annotated bibliography, Deborah Major, a social worker with over 10 years of experience as a therapist for children in public foster care, addresses a most difficult and often-posed question: ‘Why are people of color so disproportionately over-represented in the child welfare system?’ Resisting any one answer, in the spirit of studying a problem so as to foster better understanding that can lead to better solutions, this comprehensive annotated bibliography gives us a more informed perspective by organizing, evaluating, and summarizing the copious research and divergent perspectives on this complex topic.

Illinois Child Welfare exists because of your com-mitment to improving child welfare services. We enthusiastically welcome your contributions, in the form of letters, articles, books and other resources to review, and descriptions of helpful services that you want to contribute. We are available to respond to questions and assist with all aspects of developing articles and building on your contributions, so this new journal can reflect the ideas and concerns that are most important to you. A new journal can be a door opening onto discovering more insightful under-standings of problems and more effective service solutions. As you open Illinois Child Welfare, you can walk into a space we create together, built on the shared mission of reflecting upon our work and bringing about the better world to which we aspire.


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Edelman, G. (2004). Wider than the sky: The phenomenal gift of consciousness. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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Meaney, M. J. (2001). Nature, nurture, and the disunity of knowledge. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 935: 50-61.

Perry, B. D. (2002). Childhood experience and the expression of genetic potential: What childhood neglect tells us about nature and nurture. Brain & Mind, 3(1) 79-100.

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Sroufe, L. A., Carlson, E., Collins, W. A., & Egeland, B. (Eds.). (2005). The development of the person: The Minnesota study of risk and adaptation from birth to adulthood. Guilford Press: New York.

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Weaver, I.G., Cervoni, N., Champagne, F.A., D'Alessio, A., Sharma, S., Seckl, J.R., Dimov, S., Szyf, M. & Meaney, M. (2004). Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 847 – 854.

Loyola University