The efforts of Spears-Turner Distinguished Professor Mark F. Testa to improve the well-being of children nationwide continue to influence state and federal policies.
In recent months, the state of Florida has used Fostering Accountability—a 2010 book co-edited by Testa—as a model framework for developing a strategic plan that will hold the state more accountable for its actions to protect children from abuse and neglect. According to media reports, the state, which has a privatized system, has been challenged to make changes following the death of nearly 500 children, known to Florida’s child welfare system, over five years.
Testa’s book, which was co-edited by John Poertner, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was cited in the Florida report more than two dozen times. Fostering Accountability has been described as a pragmatic guide for helping public officials and agency administrators use evidence-based practice, research, and data to monitor outcomes and select proven interventions to enhance the “safety, stability, continuity, permanence and well-being” of abused and neglected children nationwide.
In addition, Testa was also recently tapped to helped draft language for the federal “Social Impact Partnership Act.” The legislation is designed to encourage private investors to fund social and public health interventions and projects that aim to improve outcomes for at-risk individuals.
Also known as social impact bonds, these financial tools offer investors a way to partner with the government to scale-up evidence-based solutions to longstanding child welfare problems. For example, social impact bonds could be used to fund innovative strategies that can help foster children find permanent homes, engage parents in drug-recovery programs, and enhance training for child welfare staff.
Children’s Home Society of America (CHSA), a national association of some of the oldest child-serving agencies in the nation, turned to Testa for feedback assistance on the draft legislation. CHSA and Testa have worked closely together the last few years to address the “wicked problems” of child welfare, including the creation of a national network of practice-based research collaborations to improve federal policies and practices that affect the health, safety, and family stability of children.
The partnership has also produced a series of national roundtable discussions under the umbrella of the “Wicked Problems of Child Welfare Institutes.” Testa and CHSA are currently preparing to host the fifth of these novel discussions later this year in Chicago. Previous institutes have been hosted in the Windy City as well as in Chapel Hill and Washington, D.C.
The institutes, which are also part of the School of Social Work’s Jordan Institute for Families, bring participants together to share cutting-edge data and practices, strengthen public-private partnerships, and develop a shared set of “grand challenges” that if addressed through evidenced-based solutions, could positively impact the health, safety, and economic well-being of children who come into contact with state child protection systems.
The fifth Wicked Problems Institute is scheduled for Oct. 20-21 and is expected to focus on five grand challenges of child welfare.