LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare has launched a new center housed within the school’s research office. The Center for Research to Transform Systems for Family, Community & Social Justice (CRTS) brings together a group of KU social work researchers to work collaboratively on research projects to transform the child welfare system.
CRTS focuses on a multisystem, multisector approach to child welfare. The center aims to transform the child welfare system by proactively listening to the needs and aspirations of communities and works collaboratively to create a proactive, responsive and equitable network of services and supports. This updated approach to child welfare within research and practice provides a more positive environment for all parties involved with child welfare situations. Within these “equitable ecosystems” — focused on family well-being —CRTS works to evolve the entire system to become intentional in keeping families intact and children safe.
CRTS uses anti-racist, anti-oppressive methods in its research and is committed to working toward racial, social and environmental justice. The founding principal investigators — co-directors and KU faculty members Becci Akin, Kaela Byers, and Jared Barton — have pledged to move beyond acknowledging and studying the historic and structural racism in the United States to working to dismantle the systems of oppression through their child welfare research.
“We want to transform the system as it currently exists so it is equitably serving families, so every family has an opportunity for positive outcomes, so that it’s not a punitive system, and when families do experience crises and need additional support, it is easily accessible and delivered without stigma,” said Kaela Byers, associate research professor of social welfare.
“We strive to do our work in a collaborative, community-engaged and community-driven and strengths-oriented manner,” said Akin, professor of social welfare and doctoral program director. “Importantly, we have a multisystem focus. Rather than solely focusing on individual level solutions, our work explores the structural and institutional contributors that establish everyday practice with families and children. This involves working with systems so they can hear and honor communities’ lived expertise. It also involves working across sectors to build more integrated, easily available, responsive, culturally relevant and equitable systems.”
CRTS currently supports nine large multipartner research, evaluation and implementation projects, all of which are focused on family, community and social justice initiatives. Most of the projects target Kansas, but a few projects are of national scope spanning 10 additional states. One project of recent recognition is Kansas Strong for Children and Families, a public-private-university collaborative that works to bring together agency, court, parent and youth leadership to create meaningful and lasting change in the child welfare system.
“Kansas Strong supports an Interagency and Community Advisory Board at statewide and local levels intended to identify gaps and barriers in the service array and identify solutions to those so families and communities are supported to care for their children,” said Barton, assistant research professor.
The center’s co-directors have been working in research implementing and evaluating innovative approaches to serving children, families and their communities for much of their careers, honing their expertise in child and family well-being and child welfare.
“We are excited to add CRTS to the Research Office’s centers,” said Amy Mendenhall, associate dean for research & faculty development. “We have been conducting important research on child welfare within our school for years, but having a formalized center helps us foster an environment that expands impact and effectively communicates our research to the public.”