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Systems Science

Families and communities create the formal and informal infrastructure necessary to raise and protect children. Systems science is about learning how those structures operate and interact and exploring ways to strengthen them. This component of the Data Center’s research program examines the role that public and private agencies play in promoting positive outcomes for children when the capacity of families and communities to do so is diminished. It also includes research into interactions between the child welfare system and other societal systems with which children come into contact, such as schools and the court system.

Selected projects:

Foster Care Utilization among School-age Children

Lily Alpert | 2013
How many school-age children are in foster care, when during the school year do they enter the system, and how long do they stay in care? The answers to these questions have implications for practice and resource allocation in both the child welfare and education sectors.
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Principles, Language, and Shared Meaning: Toward a Common Understanding of CQI in Child Welfare

Fred Wulczyn, Lily Alpert, Britany Orlebeke, & Jennifer Haight | 2014
Today, child welfare agencies are taking stock of their capacity for CQI and considering the investments they will make in order to build that capacity. While the structure of CQI systems will differ from one agency to the next, all of them will be responsible for supporting the same basic CQI process—a  cycle of problem solving activities that requires the deliberate use of evidence. In this paper we propose a fundamental vocabulary for describing what CQI is, the core principles on which CQI rests, and the critical role that evidence plays throughout the CQI process.
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Within and Between State Variation in the Use of Congregate Care

Fred Wulczyn, Lily Alpert, Zach Martinez, & Ava Weiss | 2015

Despite the mandate to place children in foster care in the least restrictive environment possible, the practice of placing children in congregate care settings persists in most places around the country.  The question is why and what can be done, from a policy perspective, to ensure that group care is used for the children and youth who need it most. Answering that question begins with learning how the use of group care varies in different parts of the country and why.

In the new research brief Within and Between State Variation in the Use of Congregate Care we illustrate how reliance on group care placement differs throughout the country and explore how child characteristics (age, race/ethnicity, and gender) influence the odds of being placed in a group setting. We then take that analysis to the next level by examining how attributes of place such as urbanicity and socioeconomic characteristics contribute to the likelihood of placement in group care. The contextual approach adds a critical perspective to conversations regarding the allocation of congregate care resources as it raises important questions about how system dynamics shape agencies’ ability to match the supply of congregate care resources to their true demand.

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Child Welfare, Race, and Disparity: New Findings, New Opportunities (webcast)

On February 2, 2012, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago hosted a Child & Family Policy Forum on research, policy, and practice issues regarding racial disparity in the child welfare system.
Watch the webcast >

Research Is Action: Disparity, Poverty, and the Need for New Knowledge

Fred Wulczyn | 2011
A great deal of work has already been done to explore racial disparity in maltreatment rates and admission to out-of-home care. However, there are still fundamental research questions and policy and practice implications that must be addressed before we can reasonably expect to make progress on such a deep and important problem. This report explores the issue of disparity and the reasons for investing more in understanding it.
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Adapting a Systems Approach to Child Protection: Key Concepts and Considerations

Fred Wulczyn, Deborah Daro, John Fluke, Sara Feldman, Christin Glodek, and Kate Lifanda | 2010
In this collaboration between UNICEF, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, and the Child Protection Research Center (CPRC) of the American Humane Association, the authors review the existing multidisciplinary literature on systems approaches to child protection and present findings from interviews with key stakeholders engaged in creating or monitoring such systems at the international and national levels.
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