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School of Social Work sponsors conference on Latino child welfare (Released: 10/ /99)

by , Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- A wide-ranging group of experts on children, the public child welfare system, and the specific plight of Latino children caught in the tangled web of the foster care system, poverty, single-parent families, and the federal bureaucracy, will come together Oct. 15 for a day-long series of workshops and panel discussions held concurrently in six states and Puerto Rico.

The event, coordinated by Julio Morales, a professor at UConn's School of Social Work, and Maria Josefa Canino, an associate professor of public administration at Rutgers, features an interactive address and discussion via teleconferencing led by Dr. Ruth Zambrana, Enochs Professor of Child Welfare and director of the Center for Child Welfare at George Mason University. Zambrana will present findings from a number of studies; national, state and local data; and discuss child welfare experiences of Puerto Rican and other Latino children. "Traditionally, very little attention has been focused on the issues faced by Latino families regarding foster care," Morales says. "Now, we're linking experts from Latino groups in six states and Puerto Rico who have been researching and studying foster care issues in the Latino community for years. This will be a historic event, and will undoubtedly lead to more work, more focus, in this area."

Connecticut's conference will be at Central Connecticut State University. In addition, there are two sites in Massachusetts, and one each in New York City, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico. At the Connecticut site, Commissioner Kristine Ragaglia, of the Department of Children and Families, will speak at 9 a.m.

Then, during the teleconference, four brief videos commissioned by Morales' planning group will be shown, and attendees at each site will call in questions to Zambrana; Carmen Lopez, presiding judge for child welfare services in the Connecticut Superior Court; Juan Figueroa, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Layla Suleiman, compliance manager for the federal Burgos case and a foster care expert from Chicago.

Participants at each site will participate in a series of workshops, following similar themes, and discussions.

Closing the conference at 3:15 p.m., Connecticut children enmeshed in the foster care system will tell their stories.

The conference begins at 9 a.m. in DiLoretto Hall at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

The goals of the conference, Morales says, are fivefold:

  • To increase the visibility of the needs of Puerto Rican and other Latino children and families involved with the child welfare system;
  • To contribute to knowledge building, data collection, analysis and dissemination of information relevant to Latino children and families in the system;
  • To explore the political, social and economic factors that push Latino children into the child welfare system;
  • To discuss foster care and adoption models that draw on the strength and resiliency of Puerto Rican and other Latino families and communities, and;
  • To increase awareness among policy makers and service providers of the issues faced by Latino children and families trapped in the child welfare system.

Afternoon workshops at the Connecticut conference, which begin at 1:45 p.m., will focus on various aspects of foster care, juvenile justice, poverty, substance abuse, and cultural issues . Presenters include Morales, Rolando Martinez, executive director of the Hispanic Health Council; Jose Suarez, assistant attorney general in the department's child protective unit; Nelson Rivera, vice president of Intensive Family Services, The Village for Families and Children Inc.; and Angel Torres, a social worker in the Office of Foster Care and Adoption Services, a division of the state DCF.

Funding for the national program is provided by the School of Social Work, the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and the Ford Foundation. The Connecticut event is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.