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Giving Voice to Children and Families

Joan Pennell serves as lead guest editor for a special issue of the country’s leading journal on child welfare. Child Welfare published the special issue, “Taking Child and Family Rights Seriously” (2011, Issue #4) to highlight family engagement in child welfare, and Pennell is an expert in the topic. “Involving families in decision making is the primary area of my work,” says Pennell, an NC State professor of social work and director of the Center for Family and Community Engagement.

Pennell says the special issue “examines how taking child and family rights seriously reshapes child welfare practice, policy, and research. In what ways does this stance influence theorizing child welfare, redesigning services, and constructing evidence? In what ways does collective decision-making that engages the family group advance both child and family rights? And when family groups are engaged in making and carrying out plans, what happens to children, their families, and the involved agencies?”

She says the studies included in the journal issue “point to the benefits of family engagement in child welfare and also to its dangers when implemented without adequate supports and resources. … The research highlights the need to increase our efforts to amplify the voices of children and to work out ways of placing children’s rights more fully on the research, policy, and practice agendas.”

Pennell says that public child welfare in the United States and internationally “is increasingly turning to family engagement as a mechanism for advancing children’s safety, permanency, and well-being. Pragmatically, family engagement is a way to involve or reinvolve the family and their social support networks in caring for children and youth in partnership with professionals. Ethically, family engagement is a way to uphold both child and family rights.”

To view the journal, visit NC State’s libraries online, type “Child Welfare” in the “find” area, and select the year 2011, issue #4.