Innovator: David Ansong

David Ansong

Helping abused and neglected children find permanent homes with their grandparents and other relatives
David Ansong, an assistant professor at the UNC School of Social Work, is working with professors Selena Childs, Kanisha Brevard and Mark Testa to develop and implement a new approach to qualify relative caregivers for the same level of guardianship assistance that adoptive parents receive. Find out how he and his team are taking an entrepreneurial approach to solve this long-standing issue.

Q & A

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research – what problems are you investigating and trying to solve?

Our group works on child welfare issues, focusing on enhancing support for relatives so they can build up their caregiving capacity for children temporarily or long term. With support of the 2017 C. Felix Harvey Award, our team is working to develop, implement and rigorously test a new approach to qualify relative caregivers for the same level of assistance that licensed foster care and adoptive parents receive.  

This includes the economics and financial aspect of it as well. It goes back to the systemic issue of paying family members who must care for their own. This is an ongoing issue and why it’s part of our project. Historically in North Carolina, grandparents and other relative caregivers who became the permanent legal guardians of a child who would otherwise go into foster care have received less financial support than foster and adoptive families. With this project we are trying to reduce the financial disparity for kin who are caregivers.

How are you taking an entrepreneurial approach to your research – and how does that approach amplify the problem-solving capacity of your work?

We have created a unique, public-private partnership model to develop a cost-effective licensing process explicitly tailored for relatives. This model allows us to test new foster parent licensing models to get improved child welfare outcomes (safety, permanence, well-being) for foster children and the relatives who care for them. By working with a community-based, multi-disciplinary team, we can use research evidence to drive policy.

How have you built your team, and what role has working across disciplines or working with outside partners played?

Our team has a history of working in partnership with the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Both organizations serve vital roles in providing child welfare services to families, and through this project, they are working together to test and learn from a new foster parent licensing process designed specifically for relative caregivers. By delivering the training in both public and private child welfare agency settings, we can provide valuable information to both agencies about what aspects of the process are effective and should be shared with other counties in the state. Working with both public and private partners brings unique and different expertise to the project.

What resources on campus have helped you on your innovation journey – and why?

The Harvey Award funding, the opportunity to participate in UNC-sponsored learning opportunities about innovation and entrepreneurship, and support from colleagues within the UNC School of Social Work helped things get off the ground for our project. Social work is doing a lot in social entrepreneurship already, and seeing the natural connections with other work on campus was very advantageous to our work. In addition, Mark Testa, a professor in the School of Social Work who has expertise in kinship caregiving, has provided tremendous guidance to our work. The UNC Office of Social Research has been very supportive as well.

What’s been your biggest challenge in getting your idea / project off the ground?

In this line of work, you have to be flexible, learn how to troubleshoot and move forward. When Hurricane Florence happened, the training was already underway. Damage from the storm understandably led to delays in the training delivery.  Each county has its own unique culture and community context. We have to be flexible and ready to adapt the process to meet the unique needs of our community partners. One size does not fit all. For our project, our next step is to test and adapt additional training models.

How do you balance your full-time teaching and research responsibilities with your interest in innovation and entrepreneurship?

Teamwork makes the dream work! It can be a challenge but having a team that can help with various pieces of the work is critical. Support from teammates, the School of Social Work and the research unit helps balance the work load.

What advice would you give to other faculty members who want to hone their own entrepreneurial skills and put them into action?

The Chancellor’s Faculty Entrepreneurship Workshop was an eye opener, and this would be good for any faculty member looking to get started. This is a recommendation to do early in your career. Faculty members should really stay engaged and take advantage of opportunities as well – there is a lot of I&E (innovation and entrepreneurship) work going on at the University, which allows you to see the connections and build relationships. Take advantage of any workshops and training. In advance of submitting for the Harvey Award, we attended a workshop that taught us how to communicate our ideas to others outside our discipline. This was a tremendous help!