Internship Changes Perception of Child Welfare

August 23, 2018 | Yuhe Gu

Girl on swing

Child welfare is a commonly discussed topic with few people understanding it.

I became a summer research intern at NCCD to strengthen my research skills as well as my interest in working with childrelated issues, especially education. Before I started my internship at NCCD, my understandings of child welfare were primarily from media depictions: sad and angry social workers taking children away from depressed parents. My experience at NCCD shifted my thoughts on this

During my time at NCCD, I was given the opportunity to conduct qualitative coding for Title IV-E waiver fund evaluation. The Title IV-E waiver fund is a resource granting states the flexibility to offer optional intervention services to support children in the child welfare system. Reading through interviews with officers from departments of probation and child welfare agencies in various counties of California allowed to me to learn about a variety of interventions aimed at ensuring the safety of children and promoting reunification of families.

Much different than the sad social workers who blindly take children away from parents in movies, the goal for actual social service agencies is to place children back into home settings. Mandates like Continuum of Care Reform exist to increase placements in home-based settings, including kinship care. In addition, agencies like the County of San Diego Child Welfare Services funds the Family Visit Coaching program to strengthen parents’ relationships with children and foster parenting skills.  

Besides working with IV-E waiver fund evaluation, I conducted several literature reviews in the realm of child welfare. One literature review was on the topic of sheriff investigations into child abuse. The studies I read suggested controversy in using police for child protection investigations. While police can gather evidence of abuse more effectively, social workers work better with families post-investigation. Collaboration between the two would make investigations more efficient, but the popular image of police prevents further collaboration among the two agencies to a certain extent. Similar to social workers, police are usually portrayed as cold and indifferent investigators in popular media. The negative image of police might result in families’ refusing to cooperate in investigations. 

Working part time for a summer is not long enough for me to look deeply into these issues, so I cannot speak to the effectiveness of intervention services or the efficiency of collaboration among police and social workers. Yet, working at NCCD reminds me to look at public depictions of social workers critically. My projects at NCCD opened the door for me to child welfare, which is an area I had never considered. Studying children is not limited to their schooling; understanding family perspectives of child-related issues provides the basis to improve school outcomes. 

Yuhe GuYuhe Gu is a summer research intern at NCCD and a rising senior at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is majoring in political science and economics with a minor in educational policy studies.