Exemplars 10

Taking a Closer Look

School of Social Work

Katharine Hill examines the experience of youth with disabilities in the child welfare system.

I grew up in Concord, Mass. and first came to Minnesota to attend Macalester College. I completed my Master of Social Work (M.S.W.), Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.), and Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. Prior to coming to St. Thomas, I worked at a number of youth-serving organizations, including the YWCA of Minneapolis and Admission Possible.

I also worked as a researcher and program coordinator at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI), which focuses on improving policies and practices to ensure that all children, youth, and adults with disabilities are valued by, and contribute to, their communities of choice. My work at ICI was in the areas of special education policy analysis, program evaluation, and training.

My research agenda is focused on older youth (roughly ages 14-21) with disabilities and older youth at risk and their transition to adulthood. I am particularly interested in how youth are prepared for adulthood by youth-serving systems (e.g., the child welfare system or the special education system), and how these systems work when youth are involved. I first became interested in this topic through my work at ICI, which was focused on creating transition supports for adolescents with disabilities. Through my research, training, and programs in that field, I came to appreciate the critical role of parents and family in preparing young people for successful futures and in navigating systems of care, and began to wonder what happened to those young people who did not have families to help them through this process. This led me to specifically examine the experience of young people with disabilities in the child welfare system and their transition to adulthood. 

The prevalence and experience of youth with disabilities in the child welfare system is vastly understudied, especially given their prevalence in the system (estimates range from 30 to 50 percent of all youth in child welfare have a disability diagnosis). I have completed studies using both quantitative and qualitative methods, focused on determining the prevalence of children and youth with disabilities in child welfare in general and foster care specifically, examining the experiences of youth with disabilities in the child welfare system and foster youth in the special education system, and conducting qualitative interviews with young people in foster care and care providers, in order to include their voices and stories in the discussion of their experience. My most recent studies have used state administrative data to analyze the prevalence, experience of, and outcomes for youth with disabilities in foster care in Minnesota.

I am dedicated to connecting my research to the field and have actively taken steps to do this.
Beyond conference presentations and publications in professional journals, I also present nationally and locally to social workers and service providers on topics related to child welfare and disability transition. Through a University of St. Thomas Community-based Research grant, I am working over the summer with Larissa Peyton, an undergraduate social work student at St. Thomas, to complete a program evaluation of the Education and Training Vouchers program, which is a state-funded and administered program that helps former foster youth access postsecondary education and training. I am also working with the Center for Advanced Studies on Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota on an “aging out” project, examining outcomes for youth leaving foster care in Hennepin County.

I view my research as my social work “practice”–it is how I can make a contribution to the field and improve the lives of children and youth. Currently, the experiences of children and youth with disabilities who are in the child welfare system are simply unacceptable–they are under-recognized, underserved, and have poor adult outcomes. I believe that once we have removed them from their families’ homes and placed them into public systems, they become the public’s responsibility and that we, as a civil society, owe them the best possible support so that they can grow to be productive and happy adults. I hope that my research can make a contribution toward this goal.

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I hope that my research can make a contribution toward this goal.