Current Projects

The Experiences of Foster Youth During COVID-19

Young adults aging out of foster care and those who have recently aged out are among the most marginalized groups in this country. They experience countless hardships when they transition from foster care to adulthood on their own. With the unprecedented additional challenges of dealing with COVID19, these young people are among those bearing the heaviest burden of this pandemic. In response to the COVID19 crisis, the Field Center launched an online survey study to assess how older youth in foster care and those who recently aged out of foster care are faring with COVID19 in the key areas of basic needs, education, employment, finances, personal connections, and health/mental health. By gaining a clearer picture of these burdens, stakeholders will be better able to advocate for the needs of these young people. The study will provide practitioners, policymakers and advocates with much-needed data and allow for the publication of academic papers on the national response to COVID19 as it affects older youth in foster care and those aged out of foster care. To view preliminary results from this study, click here.

Foster Care to College (FC2C): Fostering Success for the Future

Research tells us that 70% of foster youth aspire to go to college, yet they attend at less than half the rate of their peers, and most who do attend do not make it past their first year. As every year of education mitigates poor outcomes, reducing the likelihood of involvement in the criminal justice system, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy, the Field Center strives to make higher education more accessible and successful for youth leaving the foster care system. Building on the success of the Field Center’s 2013 colloquium, Foster Care to College: Strategies for Success, the Field Center is engaging in a menu of FC2C activities, including convening a work group of community and statewide stakeholders, conducting research, and advocating for legislative and policy change, both on local and national levels.

The Field Center is currently supporting numerous colleges and universities across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the development and operation of campus-based support programs for foster youth. These schools currently have or have committed to enhance programming providing financial, academic, and other types of supports to help former foster youth succeed in college. A list of Campus-Based Support Programs is available in the 2019 Campus Programming Directory for Foster Youth.

To be added to the mailing list to receive the Foster Care to College Newsletter and stay informed about issues related to foster youth and higher education across Pennsylvania, email

Click here to view Foster Care to College event and training videos.

Click here to view the Foster Care to College Resource Library.

Child Abuse Fatality and Near-Fatality Reduction

Each year, between 1,500 and 2,000 children in the United States are killed by their caretakers. Many of the children who died come from families that had prior contact with the child welfare system, providing an opportunity for intervention before it is too late. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has seen a recent increase in statewide fatalities and near-fatalities due to child abuse and neglect. In cases of fatalities or near-fatalities, Act 33 mandates reviews and recommendations provided to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. The Field Center is currently conducting statewide research to illuminate patterns, risk factors, and protective factors related to Pennsylvania Act 33 cases. The Field Center and state agencies will utilize the findings from this study to make specific recommendations to inform statewide policy and practice to prevent child fatalities. The study may also provide other states with a framework on how to examine and address child fatalities in a local context.

Penn Futures: Preparing Leaders in Child Welfare and Child Advocacy

The Penn Futures Project, an ambitious initiative led by three professional schools at the University of Pennsylvania, aims to collaboratively address pressing social issues that affect Philadelphia’s most vulnerable young people and their families. For this project, Faculty representing the University of Pennsylvania’s schools of Nursing, Education, Social Policy and Practice, Law, Medicine and Arts and Sciences are working to develop a university-community partnership model for a certificate program in child and family advocacy. This initiative specifically addresses critical issues facing children and families in the United States and the fragmented service system designed to provide for their care.

The future of graduate education in child well-being requires specialized advanced degrees that are defined by interprofessional training and education. Currently, professionals who serve children and families train largely in isolation from one another, and no universities have programs in which faculty involved in the health, welfare, and educational worlds of children intersect at the level of graduate training. This innovative graduate cross-professional training certificate program in child welfare and child advocacy will improve interdisciplinary education at Penn and child advocacy work in Philadelphia and nationally. Students who complete this certificate will have gained the skills, knowledge, ability, and confidence to break down system silos to achieve child safety, permanency and well-being. Disrupting the current existing silos in graduate education will result in a workforce able to integrate knowledge across disciplines and improve services for children, families, and communities, with the ultimate goals of ending child abuse and neglect and improving outcomes for families.

Click here to learn more about Penn Futures.

Child Trafficking: Legislative and Policy Advocacy

We are pleased to announce that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed SB 554 into law, creating a “Safe Harbor” for minor victims of trafficking. The Field Center has advocated for its passage for over three years, and was honored to be invited to witness the signing of this important legislation:


Sadly, the majority of young people who are sex trafficked in the United States come from the foster care and child welfare systems. A variety of factors make them easy prey for perpetrators who are waiting at the door for youth to age out of the foster care system, often without income, housing, or a support system. The Field Center is concerned about a system that removes children from homes where they are abused, only to discharge them to a future of further abuse. Our work in this area includes education, research, and advocacy. The Field Center’s recent conference Plenary Panel brought leading experts, including a foster care to sex trafficking survivor, to offer insight and recommendations. Click here to watch this compelling presentation.

Our work to support the enactment of Safe Harbor legislation included authoring a White Paper on An Analysis of Safe Harbor Laws for Minor Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Implications for Pennsylvania and Other States. Click here to read this important report.

The Field Center offered testimony on PA Senate Bill 851: Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children, to support offering sex trafficking victims services rather than charging them with prostitution or related crimes. Click here to read Executive Director Debra Schilling Wolfe’s testimony.

Project PENN: A Philadelphia Family Court-based outreach program

Project PENN offers a unique court-based information and referral program for families awaiting dependency (child abuse and neglect) proceedings at Philadelphia Family Court. Underwritten through the Nancy Glickenhaus Family Court Program, Project PENN provides a learning opportunity for Field Center graduate student interns while connecting families with critical community-based services.

Arising from a 2005 Field Center research study  that examined the experiences of families awaiting dependency proceedings in Philadelphia Family Court, Project PENN seeks to take advantage of the “teachable moment” while families are present at the courthouse. The realization that the majority of families were experiencing a long wait before seeing a judge, with little privacy, limited knowledge of the court process, and lack of information on social service programs, prompted the Field Center to develop this innovative program. With the full support of the court’s administrative judge, Project PENN opened its doors in 2009.

Through Project PENN, families meet individually, in a private office with graduate students who assist them in identifying concrete resources in the community to address the needs that frequently cause stress and disruption in families and place children at risk for harm. Families receive access to a comprehensive resource directory (developed and updated regularly by Field Center student interns), web-based resources, and clear and understandable brochures on topics such as housing, employment, food, clothing and healthcare. By helping families identify and prioritize their needs and increasing their knowledge of and access to community resources, Project PENN both teaches problem-solving skills and supports families in problem solving. Project PENN staff provides information and makes referrals for families, accessing both the phone and internet, from their office located in the large waiting room at the Philadelphia Family Court.

Data is tracked on program utilization and is incorporated in the court’s annual report.

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