Jill Duerr Berrick is the Zellerbach Family Foundation Professor at the School of Social Welfare, UC Berkeley, and Professor II at the Department of Administration and Organization Theory, University of Bergen.
Dr. Berrick’s research focuses on the child welfare system and efforts to improve the experiences of children and families touched by foster care. Her interests target the intersect of poverty, early childhood development, parenting and the service systems designed to address these issues. Berrick’s research approach typically relies upon the voices of service system consumers or providers to identify the impacts of social problems and social service solutions on family life.
Dr. Berrick’s research focus includes:
Get to know Jill
What are you working on at the moment?
My current research revolves around three main projects:
First, working with Professor Marit Skivenes, we have recently published three papers that examine public attitudes about child protection intervention in the family. The public’s views about policies and programs concerning vulnerable children are essential to the legitimacy of our countries’ public systems of support. We find that in both Norway and the U.S., adults generally favor government intervention into the family when the risk to children’s safety is high. While respondents from both countries generally favor government intervention in high risk cases, respondents from the U.S. are more likely than respondents from Norway to indicate that government should not be involved in the family, even in high risk cases. The variability in responses from the U.S. is also notable; respondents from Norway generally hold relatively similar views of government intervention into the family.
We also find in our research that there is considerably more support for the concept of children’s rights – that children have individual rights that are separate from their parents — among Norwegian respondents compared to U.S. respondents. Much media attention in the U.S. of late has focused on the importance of parents’ rights. Several state legislatures have proposed a range of new laws that expand parents’ rights or more clearly delineate parents’ rights above children’s rights. This is in contrast to Norway, where children’s rights are instantiated in the Norwegian constitution.
Findings from these papers suggest that policymaking in the field of child protection is challenged by the heterogeneity of public attitudes and about deeply contested views about the legitimacy of government involvement in family life – particularly in the U.S. Efforts to show the benefits of child protection involvement, particularly under circumstances of significant risk, may build public support for a service system much maligned or misunderstood.
The second project underway, also in collaboration with Dr. Skivenes, focuses on our efforts to characterize child protection systems from a global perspective. Our forthcoming book, The Oxford Handbook of Child Protection Systems, jointly edited with Dr. Neil Gilbert (UC Berkeley) examines child protection in 50 countries across the globe. The results from our analysis of these countries is a global typology of five child protection systems. The five systems were derived based upon each country’s orientation toward ten dimensions of culture, resources, or services. We view this work as an important effort to organize our global response to children’s needs and services, and to offer an initial roadmap as countries make choices about system design and resource allocation to children and families. Our work going forward is designed to test the typology empirically to determine its accuracy in characterizing different system characteristics.
Closer to home, I am deeply engaged in policy reform to change how our government responds to parents whose children have been placed in foster care. In the U.S., federal law compels states to bill parents for the cost of their children’s stay in foster care (with exceptions). In California, my efforts focus on educating legislators and the public about AB 1686, a bill to reduce the number of parents required to pay for foster care. At the federal level, I am currently working with a range of national advocacy organizations to determine the feasibility of forwarding federal legislation on this issue.
What does a typical day for you look like?
Every day can be different! I typically teach 1-2 days per week and spend a good portion of those days with undergraduate, MSW, or PhD students. Undergraduates are open and excited about making a difference in the world and I maintain my optimism because of them. MSW students at Berkeley have dedicated themselves to serving the most vulnerable members of our communities. I am regularly humbled by all of them. And PhD students hold the promise of solving the world’s most vexing social problems. I learn from them, every day.
In addition to my work with students, I also have regular meetings with my faculty colleagues in the School of Social Welfare, and I participate in various committees at the University level.
I try to manage my time so that I can dedicate 2-3 days per week to my research and writing. Those are deeply contemplative and interesting days. I always feel privileged to have the opportunity to spend days living in the world of ideas, research, and knowledge.
Can you describe your office space?
At U.C. Berkeley, my office is on the third floor of Haviland Hall, a beautiful building constructed in the 1920s. I have a lovely, simple office with a small balcony overlooking Redwood trees and Strawberry creek. It’s quiet and contemplative except around the noon hour when the carillon bells ring from the Campanile Tower, and when I frequently hear the raucous sounds of Berkeley students protesting one or another political topic from nearby Sproul Plaza.
Is there a book you’d recommend within your field?
Many. I don’t think researchers can understand child welfare unless they immerse themselves in understanding the lived experiences of those whose lives have been touched by the system. Stories, of course, capture a single person’s or small group of people’s experiences. They do not necessarily communicate the average experience, but they open a window into understanding the urgency of developing systems of care that are respectful, responsive, and helpful to children and families.
A couple of books that characterize some people’s experiences with child protection in the U.S. are the following.
- Andrew Bridge. (2008). Hope’s Boy. Hyperion.
- Vanessa Diffenbaugh. (2012). The language of flowers. Ballentine Books.
- Andrea Elliott. (2021). Invisible Child. Random House.
If you had to choose a different field, what would it be?
If I hadn’t landed in the field of social welfare, I would likely be in the field of education. When I was considering a master’s degree, I couldn’t decide whether I should choose social welfare or education. I knew I wanted to dedicate my future to vulnerable children and families, but I wasn’t sure which approach would be most impactful I applied to both areas of study thinking that I would only be accepted by either a graduate program in Education or Social Welfare – the university’s choice in me would decide my future. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I was accepted into both programs and therefore had to decide, myself. After a couple of weeks of weighing the pros and cons, I finally decided that I couldn’t decide. Instead, I flipped a coin. Heads won and I followed my path to social work.
What are you listening to these days?
I walk my dog every day and usually listen to podcasts along the way. A few of my favorites:
- This American Life
- Planet Money
- Hidden Brain
- More Perfect
- Revisionist History
Your friend sets you up on a blind date with someone famous – who do you hope it is?
Barack Obama… and his wife, Michelle.
What’s on your nightstand?
Place you’ve been where you never want to go back to?
And a place you’ve been where you’d like to go back?
Bergen, Norway! And… Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Finland, Denmark, Belguim, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Japan, Mexico, and Costa Rica. Plus all the places I haven’t been, yet!
Updated Spring 2022