Mark Testa, the Spears-Turner Distinguished Professor in the School of Social Work, is the recipient of the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) 2017 Social Policy Award.
The prestigious award honors social work researchers who have made outstanding contributions to policy that impact vulnerable or disadvantaged populations. Testa was selected for the award because of his “record of accomplishment that demonstrates the use of rigorous policy research methods, innovation, and significant impact of policy research in addressing important social work policy issues,” said James Herbert Williams, SSWR president.
Testa, who joined the School of Social Work in 2009, is considered one of the most influential scholars in child welfare. The co-editor of four books and co-author of 39 articles and chapters, Testa is well-regarded for his groundbreaking research in subsidized guardianship, which has had a major impact on national child welfare policies and practices.
Professor Mark Fraser and clinical assistant professor Selena Childs, who nominated Testa for the SSWR award, described their colleague as a rare researcher equipped with the skills and acumen to conduct rigorous research and “the social-political deftness to effectively influence state and national lawmakers to impact policy.”
“Dr. Testa uses rigorous evaluation so lawmakers and administrators can make data driven, bipartisan decisions about child welfare policy,” said Childs, program director of Testa’s “Program on Evidence Building in Child Welfare.”
Testa has been a life-long champion of translating interventions into more effective policies and practices that enhance the safety, stability and well-being of abused and neglected children nationwide. As the former director of the Children and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Testa’s research work in the fields of child protection and foster care led to a significant overhaul of that state’s Department of Children and Family Services. His intervention research also helped to decrease the number of children in foster care in Illinois by 62 percent and saved the state an estimated $90 million.
In addition, Testa’s research on subsidized guardianship resulted in national legislation that, among other things, now allows states to offer kinship guardianship assistance payments, helping family members to more affordably care for related children.
Since arriving at UNC, Testa has intensified efforts to reform and influence child welfare policies. In 2011, he established a partnership with the Children’s Home Society of America to promote collaboration among universities, child welfare agencies, government, foundations, and private investors to develop and evaluate promising solutions to the intractable problems that child welfare agencies are confronting across the country. The partners aim to help build evidence-supported services and create sustainable child welfare systems in every state.
Testa also helped launch and continues to lead a series of “Wicked Problems Institutes (WPIs),” which focus on advancing rigorous demonstrations of child welfare interventions that show promise for improving child safety, permanence, and well-being.
The significance of Testa’s scholarly work can also be measured by his success in securing funding, School officials added. Testa has served as the principal investigator for 15 extramural research grants, leveraging more than $40.5 million in funding to evaluate child welfare demonstrations.
Currently, he is responsible for evaluating the $100 million Permanency Innovations Initiative and the Illinois Birth-Three IV-E Waiver (contract: $3.9 million). He is also chairing both the leadership team and the advisory board for the U.S. Children’s Bureau, which is implementing the $23.4 million National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation.
Testa will be formally recognized in a ceremony in January at the 2017 SSWR conference in New Orleans, LA.
“Mark is such a deserving recipient of this award because he has devoted his entire professional career to advancing effective child welfare practice,” praised UNC School of Social Work Dean Gary L. Bowen. “Through both his rigorous research and scholarship and his full integration in state and federal decision-making, he is a leading voice in addressing the ‘wicked problems’ of child welfare—influencing public policy and programs in support of vulnerable children and their families.”