Mark Testa, Spears-Turner Distinguished Professor of Social Work and an architect of innovative reforms in the field of child welfare at state and federal levels is retiring, effective July 1. Testa leaves having served more than 40 years within the field of social sciences and 10 years with the UNC School of Social Work.
“Dr. Mark Testa has had a distinguished career of social impact; he is the very embodiment of the School’s mission to advance equity, transform systems, and improve lives,” praised Dean Gary L. Bowen. “His scholarly work has been both rigorous and relevant in better understanding and informing policy and program interventions for pressing social problems and issues faced by families and children in this nation and beyond.”
Testa joined the UNC School of Social Work in 2010 as an influential scholar for his groundbreaking research in subsidized guardianship. He had begun this work years earlier in Illinois, where he held faculty appointments at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Chicago. While in Illinois, he developed and led the Illinois Subsidized Guardianship Demonstration program, an initiative that for the first time provided funding for families who became legal guardians to relative children.
Testa’s leadership on these reforms helped to decrease the number of children in foster care in that state by nearly 62 percent and ultimately prompted Congress to create the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KinGap) as part of the “Fostering Connections” Act that was signed into federal law in 2008. As a result of Testa’s research, numerous youth are now able to move out of the foster care system successfully and into a permanent home of a legal guardian.
“Dr. Testa’s groundbreaking work using low-cost randomized controlled trials in child welfare has influenced national policy,” said Selena Childs, clinical associate professor and a close collaborator of Testa’s for the past eight years. “His practice-based intervention research has helped create data informed road-maps providing direction to child welfare policymakers and practitioners alike.”
At UNC, Testa intensified his 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. With his thought leadership, the partnership launched a series of “Wicked Problems Institutes,” to focus on the advancement of rigorous demonstrations of child welfare interventions that show promise for improving child safety, permanence, and well-being.
In his role as a distinguished professor, Testa mentored generations of new practitioners, researchers, and administrators in child welfare. Among them were School of Social Work associate professor David Ansong, who credited Testa for helping him to grow and expand his child welfare scholarship. Ansong said he was particularly thankful for his colleague’s invitations to collaborate on several projects, including one that earned their research team the prestigious 2017 C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities.
“His support and presence provided me with the confidence to take initiatives that I would have usually dismissed,” Ansong said. “I have come this far, in part, because of Dr. Testa’s mentorship.”
Over the course of his career, Testa received numerous honors and awards, including from the U.S. Department of Health and Services and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. In 2017, he was selected for the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Social Policy Award, which honors social work researchers who have made outstanding contributions to policy that impact vulnerable or disadvantaged populations.
In March, Testa was selected by the national Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) as a member of the organization’s “100 Champions for Children.” The award recognizes numerous individual and group efforts to promote child well-being and advance the field of child welfare.
Testa’s leadership in the field and within the School will be missed, Bowen added.
“As dean, I will miss his wise counsel and his calm demeanor,” he said. “I want to thank him for his many contributions to our UNC School of Social Work and wish him all the best as he turns the page to the next chapter of his career and life.”