We recently had the opportunity to speak with Assistant Professor Abigail Williams-Butler about National Foster Care Month, which is observed in May.
Dr. Williams-Butler’s broad research agenda focuses on understanding the developmental trajectory of children and adolescents that are disproportionately represented within and are at higher risk of becoming involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. She focuses on understanding the precipitators of racial disparities within child serving systems and identifying protective factors that may interrupt the trajectory further into these systems. Black youth and their families are disproportionately involved in the foster care system and make up a significant portion of those who continue onto the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems. She seeks to identify the resources and strengths that youth and their families have, which may contribute to positive developmental outcomes, while also acknowledging the systemic barriers that many youth and their families face.
Tell us a bit about your journey to social work.
My journey to social work began with practice experience as a residential counselor for adolescent girls in a substance use treatment center. These clients were supervised 24 hours a day, having been diagnosed with drug and alcohol misuse, as well as dually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. Most of the clients were court-ordered, so if they did not successfully complete treatment, they were likely to be incarcerated. I also worked as a mental health technician primarily with girls receiving mental health treatment. Many were involved in the foster care system. These direct practice experiences informed my interest in social work.
Why is it important to observe National Foster Care Month?
National Foster Care Month was established in 1988 to bring attention to the issues that children in foster care face. It is important to bring awareness to the issues that youth in foster care experience and those that are disproportionately represented within the foster care system. Children and adolescents in foster care are more likely to experience adverse childhood experiences, food insecurity, homelessness, a lack of access to health and mental health services, unplanned pregnancies, and unemployment. They are also more likely to continue onto the juvenile and criminal justice systems, among other negative outcomes. This is especially the case for Black children and adolescents involved within the foster care system. The odds are stacked against these youth and their families, however, it is important to identify their strengths and build on them.
What are some things the social work profession or social workers can do to bring attention to foster care?
The Children’s Bureau has an excellent website dedicated to National Foster Care Month that has resources on what foster care is and how to support youth in care. In addition to recognizing the challenges of youth in care, it is also important to recognize their strengths. By identifying and building on youth and family strengths, clinicians, administrators, and policymakers can build on protective factors at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for these youth and their families.
What are some ways people can acknowledge National Foster Care Month?
There are many ways that National Foster Care Month can be acknowledged. Using social media is a great way to raise awareness. Talking to your family, friends, and loved ones about Foster Care Month is another way to raise awareness. Awareness can also be raised by contacting your state and local representatives around funding, support, and laws that provide support for those in care. It is also important to note that in-home services, where financial and other resources are given to families of origin as opposed to removing children from families and paying others for their care, are an alternative to foster care services. Providing support and resources for families of origin would make a substantial impact on the lives of youth in care as well as their families of origin. It is important to acknowledge National Foster Care Month while also striving to create an environment where families of origin are supported so that the use of foster care is ultimately no longer necessary.
This story was created in partnership with Rutgers School of Social Work's Inclusion, Intersectionality, Diversity, Equity, and Advancement (IIDEA) Committee in support of our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.