KU News Service

Researcher lands grant to study, improve services for Latino kids in child welfare

Wed, 08/15/2012

Michelle Johnson-Motoyama

More Information

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas researcher has landed a grant to study how Latino children fare in child welfare programs across the country to both better understand current services and improve them for future generations of children.

Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, assistant professor of social welfare, received a two-year grant from the Lois and Samuel Silberman Fund of the New York Community Trust for the project. During the first year she will study newly issued data regarding Latino children receiving services throughout the nation, and in the second she will develop curriculum and guidelines for students and practitioners to help ensure better services.

"The Latino child population is the fastest growing population in the United States, as far as children go," Johnson-Motoyama said. "We've seen unprecedented growth in the population overall as well as in child welfare services. It's very important to understand how the system is responding. Latinos have been an understudied group."

Johnson-Motoyama will study data from the first and second National Surveys of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families. The studies contain a wealth of information on both children and parents, including their status as immigrants or American citizens, whether they are documented, age, education and more. The data will help illustrate how children with developmental needs and those who are deemed vulnerable are faring in the child welfare system.

The study will also examine how public policy has affected Latino children and families. Examples include the 2003 Keeping Families Safe Act , which required all children younger than 3 in child welfare systems to receive a referral for early intervention services if they were determined to be mistreated, and the immigrant provisions of 1996 welfare reform, which limited access to many social programs. It will also study whether documentation has led to different patterns of response within certain programs and how a language barrier may affect families' interaction with the system.

Determining the unique needs of Latino children in child welfare services during the first year of the study will build the foundation for the second year, in which Johnson-Motoyama and collaborators will develop curriculum and training for students and practitioners. She will disseminate her findings through the Migration and Child Welfare National Network, a group of organizations and child welfare experts from around the country. Her team will develop web-based, improved curriculum for social welfare students around the country looking to work in child welfare. They will also develop research briefs and training modules for professionals already working in the field to teach best practices and incorporate lessons learned from the first year of the study.

"It really takes a mastery of multiple systems, child welfare, education and public immigration policy, to know how to best serve vulnerable children and families," Johnson-Motoyama said. "This will help build that knowledge in those areas."

In order for child welfare systems to meet the goals of child safety, permanence and well-being, accurate data is necessary. Helping build culturally competent services and avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach can better serve vulnerable children.

"Hopefully this will lead to a better-informed child welfare workforce," Johnson-Motoyama said. "We know early intervention, especially if it's done in a culturally competent manner, can help turn things around. Families can really benefit from it."

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