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As a child growing up in a small North Carolina town, Trenette Clark watched as substance use wreaked havoc on the lives of those she cared deeply about.
“I saw people who were very close to me living a lifestyle that was severe as it relates to the social and health consequences of substance use,” said Clark, an assistant professor at UNC’s School of Social Work. “I saw people lose their children to the child welfare system and never get them back. I saw 16- and 17-year-old teenagers convicted of felonies for drug possession. I saw people die—that was probably the most profound. Seeing people die young, in their 20s and 30s, had a real impact on me, and I started wondering, ‘Why do people use drugs?’”
Amy Clay knows better than most about the challenges of growing up in the welfare system. At age 15, Clay was placed in foster care in Illinois and over three years, was moved to four different homes. During that same time, her caseworkers routinely changed, and she had to fight to stay in her same school.
Such experiences were painfully difficult, recalled Clay, especially for a girl who had already lived much of her life surrounded by violence. Although her childhood was far from perfect, Clay, now 33, eventually learned to embrace her own story. Over the years, she also gained the confidence to share her experience with others.
Today, with help and encouragement from Mark Testa, a professor at UNC’s School of Social Work, Clay is among several former foster care children who are working to help researchers and policymakers better understand the experiences of children in the welfare system. Their work is part of an ongoing campaign to resolve the “wicked problems” of child welfare.
UNC has announced that classes are canceled at 8 a.m. on Jan. 30, 2014; resume at 9:30 a.m.
UNC has announced that classes are canceled until noon on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.