UCLA Pritzker Center Summer Academy Promotes Careers and Engagement in Foster Care

UCLA undergrads from across disciplines gained from the insights of experts from the University and the LA community.

For far too long, communities across the United States have been fraught with inequities, largely carried on the backs of Brown and Black families. From educational failings to overrepresentation in the foster care and juvenile justice systems–the needs are great. And, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made all too clear, these inequities fall disproportionately on poor children and communities of color.

But there are also reasons for hope.  The first is the resilience of children and families who everyday work to overcome real and difficult challenges.   A second are the UCLA students who want to help and are working to develop the knowledge, skills and connections to make a difference. 

This July, in response to the growing interest in child welfare at UCLA, and need for a bright and talented workforce within the field, the UCLA Pritzker Center for the Strengthening of Children and Families offered its inaugural Summer Child Welfare Academy. While they could have been at the beach or on vacation, 160 students chose instead to take part in a three-week series of lectures and seminars exploring the challenges confronting child welfare and the programs, systems, policies and actions intended to resolve them. 

The Summer Child Welfare Academy is a new effort designed to introduce students at UCLA to the field of child welfare. Students took part in seminars ranging from an introduction to the child welfare system to the challenges of accessing quality healthcare and educational opportunities, to specific issues in adoption and permanency.

“Transdisciplinary work is at the heart of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families, said Audra Langley, an assistant professor at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and co-director of the UCLA Pritzker Center.  “At a time when students are more eager than ever to work on important issues facing people of color and the underserved families involved in the child welfare system., the summer academy engaged participants in learning about the issues and working toward this goal in a most meaningful way.” 

The majority of the students participating in the Academy were undergraduates at UCLA. Their primary areas of study include psychology, education and social work, with at least a few graduate students from a range of disciplines including law, medicine, public health, the arts, and sciences. The participants included eight current UCLA students who were formerly in foster care.  

“This has been one of the most valuable things I’ve done this summer and has put me on the path to social work, ” said Nicole Yee, a UCLA Psychobiology major and Academy participant. 

The participants had the opportunity to learn from UCLA faculty involved in the work of the UCLA Pritzker Center, as well as a number of guest lecturers from the community.  Several Bruins joined the effort, including Jill Rowland and Cynthia Billey, from the Alliance for Children’s Rights.  

“Now, more than ever, we need diverse and bright students to pursue careers in our field,” Rowland said. “As a graduate from the UCLA School of Law, and an education attorney, I was happy to be a guest lecturer on educational issues facing children in foster care and the Alliance for Children’s Rights was proud to partner with the UCLA Pritzker Center for their Summer Child Welfare Academy.”

Some 120 students completed all six sessions of the Academy this summer and received a certificate of completion. 

“The bright students at UCLA have so much to offer children and families involved in the child welfare system,” said Tyrone Howard, a UCLA education professor and Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center. From education to law, and medicine to social work, and many more fields, we were delighted to see students from across the university’s programs represented in our summer academy. Understanding there is great interest in this field, we are eager to offer a credit-based class on this topic in the future.”

The UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families is a hub for training and education, research and evaluation, and service to the community for children, families and the agencies that support them at UCLA.  For more information, visit the website.