Foster-care research earns ASU student prestigious fellowship

ASU's Doris Duke Fellowship recipients

Francie Julien-Chinn (right) joins fellow social-work doctoral students Elisa Kawam, Jennifer Mullins Geiger and Megan J. Hayes as a winner of the Doris Duke Fellowship, which all are using to further their work in child well-being.
Photo by: Christopher Hernandez


Joins 3 other School of Social Work winners of competitive award

Francie Julien-Chinn knows that a lot of factors can affect a child’s permanent placement in the foster-care system.

The second-year doctoral student in Arizona State University’s School of Social Work – who has 11 years of work experience with Child Protective Services – has received a highly competitive Doris Duke Fellowship to research some of these factors.

The $30,000 annual stipend will help support her dissertation work aimed at highlighting how perceptions case workers have about their organizational culture correlate with permanency outcomes for children in out-of-home care.

“There’s so much that goes into how we can get children into legal permanency in a timely manner, but that’s not happening,” Julien-Chinn said. “I think this is an innovative way to look at some of the factors that might be impacting these decisions.”

As part of her research, Julien-Chinn hopes to survey approximately 100 child-welfare workers, those who carry the caseloads for children in out-of-home-care, and look at how they feel about their organizational culture using the Organizational Social Context Scale. The fellowship will help tremendously with that.

“I’m extremely thankful that I received the fellowship,” Julien-Chinn said. “Even if I hadn’t, the process really pushed me on deciding what my research agenda would be.”

Since its inception, the Doris Duke Fellowship has been awarded to 70 doctoral students from more than 50 colleges nationwide. ASU’s School of Social Work, part of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, is one of only two schools to produce four fellowship winners.

Julien-Chinn joins three colleagues who have won the award: Jennifer Mullins Geiger in the inaugural cohort in 2011, and Megan J. Hayes and Elisa Kawam in 2013.

Geiger applied her stipend to enhance research for her dissertation study of the cycle of child maltreatment, in which she looked at young adults aging out of the child-welfare system and the challenges that face them as potential parents themselves.

“It was a brand-new fellowship, and I really did not know what to expect,” Geiger said.

The fellowship helped allow her to observe the perceived social-support system, as well as living situations of 183 youths across Arizona who were a part of the child-welfare system. The goal was to predict potential risks and challenges they would face should they become parents.

“It was always my intention to take what I learned and bring it back to the field,” Geiger said. “It’s about getting information out there to potentially change people’s mind-set about how we establish policy and practice working with this population.”

With nine years of experience working in behavioral health in foster-care group homes, Hayes’ doctoral dissertation took a closer look into that field. Hayes, who has since completed her research, examined former foster children who have transitioned from child-welfare and mental-health systems, and the decision-making process regarding mental-health service utilization after turning 18.

“One of the things that is most helpful, is the peer learning network that the fellowship provides, where we are able to connect with other emerging scholars across the country,” Hayes said.

During her research, Hayes was able to interview 29 former foster children, as well as eight professionals in the field associated with independent living programs and behavioral-health agencies, all in an effort to raise the voices of youths aging out of the child-welfare system. It was a mixed-methods project where the first phase of interviews and focus groups informed the development of an instrument/survey administered to 224 foster alumni to determine the most intense and frequently encountered situations.

“It’s important to make sure my research is practice-oriented so that I can remain engaged in the community," Hayes said.

Kawam was a successful pre-med student before switching paths and entering the field of social work, specifically child welfare.

“Social work changes the foundational fabric of who you are, because it makes you look at the world differently,” said Kawam.

Kawam, who previously worked as an investigator for Child Protective Services in south Phoenix and was then a supervisor for a transitional-housing facility for pregnant and parenting teenage mothers, focused her study on PTSD/trauma in mothers of young children who are involved in child welfare.

The fellowship promoted her research on the effects of trauma, substance use, domestic violence, neglect, family dysfunction and child abuse on mothers who are currently involved in allegations of child maltreatment themselves. The cyclical and intergenerational nature of child maltreatment was of particular interest to her in her study. In the course of her work, Kawam not only credits the fellowship but how the ASU School of Social Work helped her as well.

“I believe the reputation of ASU and our social-work programs really carried me throughout this process,” Kawam said. “From researching and teaching, I’m grateful for the well-rounded experience I had.”

In an effort to help cultivate emerging leaders interested in developing innovative initiatives and policies for the enhancement of child development, the Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being was established in 2011 by Chapin Hall, a research center within the University of Chicago, with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Written by Christopher Hernandez