For more than 30 years, Patricia Schene has worked in the field of child and family services as a state administrator, private agency director, researcher, and professor.
Dr. Schene has led national forums on the response to child abuse and neglect. Her work has involved national data system development, policy formulation, definition and measurement of outcomes, risk assessment, curriculum development, the building of community collaborations to protect children, and the development of differential response systems to report child maltreatment.
She has contributed to the CWLA standards in child protective services, helped APHSA develop an approach to integrate services across systems, and initiated an effort to crosswalk child welfare statutes and standards in relevance to the national Child and Family
Dr. Schene worked for the American Humane Association's Children's Services Division for 17 years, the last eight as director. Recently, she has consulted for and helped states implement and evaluate differential response systems.
American Humane is proud to honor Dr. Schene with the 2007 Vincent De Francis Award.
Recipient of the American Humane 2007 Vincent De Francis Award
American Humane presented its 2007 Vincent De Francis Award to Patricia Schene, Ph.D. This award recognizes those who possess the vision and commitment to reach across disciplines to improve child welfare systems on a national level. She was interviewed by Sonia Velazquez, vice president of American Humane’s Children’s Division.
SONIA: Pat, your career of over 30 years serving children and families is an inspiration to many. What is the significance of the Vincent De Francis award for you?
PAT: In many ways receiving this award represents the completion of a circle in that my own work in child welfare was deeply influenced by Vincent De Francis as well as the opportunity to work at the American Humane Association for 17 years. Never far from my mind -- and the minds of all of us in this work -- has been the significance of the mission -- protecting children and strengthening their families. The vulnerability of children experiencing abuse and neglect has always stood out in clear relief as has the absolute necessity to respond effectively to that vulnerability.
SONIA: Aren’t there so many different ways people have approached that vulnerability?
PAT: We are all aware of the cacophony of voices offering ways of understanding and responding. We have witnessed in the past generation both the explosion of public awareness of child abuse and neglect as well as recognition of the limitations of our response. This work will be with us for some time and will require continued and renewed commitments.
SONIA: How would you characterize the key contributions of Dr. De Francis?
PAT: Vincent De Francis was consistent in his writings and teachings on some fundamental principles that inform society’s response to child maltreatment:
His work and that of the American Humane Association continue to provide leadership to the field based on fundamental principles. The “topics” have changed over the years, but the principles remain relevant.
SONIA: De Francis strongly advocated on the importance of reporting child maltreatment. What has been the impact of increased reporting since Vincent’s time?
PAT: As the level of reporting grew exponentially over the past 30 years (from a few thousand children reported as potentially abused and neglected to more than 3 million) the systems of response also had to not only grow, but become better articulated.
SONIA: How has the field of child protection responded?
PAT: A great deal of work has gone on to understand what exactly we are doing and should be doing as we respond to vulnerable children.
SONIA: It seems that every new headline about a child seriously of fatally injured leads to public uproar about the inadequacy of our system of response.
PAT: You’re right and many of the criticisms are valid. However, greater efforts toward accountability have developed at every level of government.
SONIA: It certainly sounds like some significant progress has been made.
PAT: The good news is that progress has been made in all of these areas over the past decades. Our issues and topics reflect a growing sophistication in understanding what we are doing and evaluating what success we are having.
Although the topics vary over time, there is a set of principles that undergird our work and a continuity over time in what we are trying to achieve. We also have to revisit the efforts we have made to ensure we can sustain our progress and build on it.
SONIA: There will always be a need for national leadership in child welfare. Just as in Vincent De Francis’ time, leadership is needed now. How would you describe the current agenda?
PAT: Leadership is needed to:
As we look to the future, the topics and concerns that seem most in need of leadership include:
SONIA: Think about it when Vincent De Francis was working:
We did not have a national system of reporting. Now millions of citizens express their concerns for children by reporting and many of these children would not be helped without those reports.
Training for caseworkers was haphazard and inadequate. Enormous progress has been made to define competencies and prepare staff.
Evaluation was very anecdotal. We now have many studies telling us what works, we have outcomes defined nationally, and we have a national system of accountability in place to track outcomes in every state; the body of “evidence-based practices” is growing.
Sexual abuse was unheard of until his landmark study in the 1950s.
PAT: You are right! We have come a long way but we still have work to do. Each generation is obligated not to get to the end of the road, but to lay another portion of the trail, building on what has gone before and committing anew to the mission inherent in this work; sustaining as well as building.