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Experts gather at UNC to tackle “wicked problems” of child welfare

Dozens of child welfare experts gathered at the UNC School of Social Work recently, for the first in series of national meetings aimed at forging solutions to keep children safe and healthy.

Because of their complexity, the field has deemed certain challenges “wicked problems.” The term was coined to describe tricky policy problems that defy ordinary solutions.

Over the coming year, experts will gather for a series of three roundtables called the Wicked Problems Institute. Attendees represent a broad spectrum of foundations, associations, agencies, consultants and educators.

The first meeting on Feb. 22-23 at the UNC School of Social Work focused on the problem of how to balance innovation with evidence-based practice: in other words, making sure child welfare providers can quickly rise to challenges with new, innovative solutions, while also building a solid evidence base for what works.

In conjunction with the institute, members of the public were invited to attend a free lecture entitled “Using Evidence on Cost-Effectiveness to Guide Social Policy and Spending,” on Feb. 22 in the school’s auditorium. Jon Baron, president of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, and Ron Haskins, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, discussed the opportunities for and challenges of using evidence on cost-effective programs to optimize benefits for children, families, communities and the nation in a tight budgetary climate.

The Wicked Problems Institute series is organized by the UNC School of Social Work and the Children’s Home Society of America, a nationwide network of voluntary child welfare agencies. Mark Testa, Spears-Turner Distinguished Professor, and Jack Richman, the school’s dean, are spearheading the effort. The Chapel Hill leg of the series was sponsored by the school’s Jordan Institute for Families.

Meetings also will be held in Chicago on Oct. 3-4, and in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 19-20, 2013. The October gathering will focus on how public-private partnership can improve the return on public investment dollars. The February 2013 meeting will consider how the field should deal with the broad goal of child well-being – issues such as children’s health, education and other aspects that go beyond basic safety.

Read more: What are wicked problems, and how will the group address them?
Photo gallery from the Feb. 22-23 meeting