February 15, 2022

Child sitting in the dark - Photo 158850110 / Child Welfare © Flynt | Dreamstime.comOn February 11, 2022, Catholic University Law Review hosted its annual symposium. The virtual program, “The Current State of Child Welfare: How Decreasing Child Poverty Can Aid in Meaningful Reform Thereof,” was organized by the Law Review's Lead Articles Editors, Patricia Drennan (3L), and Sarah Manning (3L), and featured distinguished policymakers, legal scholars, and child advocacy group representatives who discussed and reflected on what can be done to reduce instances of child poverty, improve the current state of the welfare system, and introduce policy proposals adequately addressing the needs of children and families. Each of the speakers shared their professional insights on poverty and the child welfare system, as well as provided meaningful reform ideas that would serve to reduce both poverty and adverse welfare system experiences.

The event began with opening remarks from Rebekah Green (4E), Editor-in-Chief of Catholic University Law Review, Vol. 71. Green greeted those in attendance and then introduced Dean Stephen Payne for a few words of welcome. Dean Payne applauded the Law Review on their organization of the symposium—commenting that it is a “great annual tradition of our school.” Drennan and Manning then provided an outline for the day’s important discussions.

Presentation 1: Reflections from a Grassroots Perspective on Solutions to Ending Child Poverty

The first panel provided an in-depth perspective on child poverty from someone who has worked in the trenches of addressing poverty. The presentation was framed in the context of St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth, and Families’ mission and how that mission has evolved over the years—adapting to the changing needs of those they serve.

Speaker: Sister Mary Bader, CEO, St. Ann's Center for Children, Youth, and Families

Presentation 2: Improving Foster Care and Adoption Policy to Give More Children a Stable Family

The second presentation of the day focused on foster care reform. It outlined barriers within the current system—including the lack of support for foster parents, the policies and lack of adherence to policies that can leave children trapped in the system, and religious liberty challenges to faith-based adoption and foster care services—and potential avenues for reform.

Speaker: Rachel Sheffield, Senior Policy Advisor, Senate Joint Economic Committee

Presentation 3: The Intersection of Poverty and Child Welfare

The third panel provided a different perspective on the direction of reforming the child welfare system. Looking at the intersection of poverty and child welfare, the presentation aimed to challenge commonly-held perceptions of parents in the welfare system and focused on preventing maltreatment and children entering the system through the strengthening of parents and families.

Speaker: Jerry Milner, Director, Family Integrity and Justice Works at Public Knowledge

Presentation 4: The Transition from Child Welfare to Child & Family Well-Being: The Role of Racial Equity and Social Networks and Models for Engaged Research

Dean Mary Graw Leary, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Research, began the afternoon session of the symposium by providing opening remarks for the fourth set of speakers. She noted the particular timeliness of the symposium's subject matter and concluded, "we pride ourselves on having impactful dialogue and this symposium is another fine example of that." Graw Leary then introduced the speakers.

The fourth presentation of the day was a data-driven analysis of the child welfare system's past, how that history informs current relationships with families in the system, and what are known to be necessary changes for the future of the child welfare system. 

Speakers: Betsy Goulet, DPA, Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Public Management and Policy, Director, Alliance for Experiential Problem-Based Learning, University of Illinois - Springfield and Robin Fretwell Wilson, Director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois System & Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law, University of Illinois College of Law

Presentation 5: No Way to Treat a Child

The final presentation of the day reflected on the scope and magnitude of the current child welfare crisis. While noting that the problem is significant, the presentation also offered hope that it is also solvable. 

Speaker: Naomi Schaefer Riley, Resident at the American Enterprise Institute

Following the presentations, Drennan and Manning offered thanks to each of the panelists and the audience for their time. A special thank you was also extended to Katherine Gamelin Crowley, Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, and Heather Doerr for their assistance in planning the event.