Innovative Researcher in Action
Interview with Associate Professor Haksoon Ahn, Ph.D., MSW
Researcher and Policy Expert Improving Child Welfare Systems and Economic Security for Families
On her journey to becoming a faculty member at University of Maryland School of Social Work:
Dr. Ahn’s professional social work journey started in Korea when she launched a study to explore the association between social and economic backgrounds and the newly introduced unemployment insurance plan. During the economic crisis in Korea, she developed a strong interest in social inequality, unemployment and social safety nets. She realized how much social policy can influence the lives of Korean citizens. Soon after, she accepted a position at the Korea Labor Institute. Upon completing her doctoral coursework at Yonsei University in Korea, she endeavored to expand her research to a more global context and enrolled in a doctoral program in Social Policy at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University. During her time at Brandeis University, she became interested in understanding how social policy interventions can improve the lives of low-income single mothers and lead to better economic and employment outcomes. She subsequently worked at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC, where she had a prestigious fellowship as a research economist that allowed her to work with several leading economists including Dr. Jared Bernstein, who served as chief economist to former Vice President JoeBiden. Dr. Ahn has been a faculty member at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work for more than 8 years as a research professor and currently as an Associate Professor.
On how her research informs the work-life discussion:
As an economist and social policy researcher, Dr. Ahn has designed, implemented, and evaluated public child welfare systems and programs as part of Quality Assurance (QA) and Family Centered Practice (FCP) projects. The QA project works to determine if the state of Maryland is meeting federal and state laws in administering child welfare services. The FCP project seeks to implement strategies that focus on increasing positive outcomes for children served by public child welfare to ensure their safety, well-being. She believes that the many voices and contributions of the caseworkers, families, youth, and other stakeholders involved in these projects bring immense value to her research. They provide a face to the many issues she addresses, including the financial burden of childcare on low-income single mothers and the negative impacts of income inequality on individual workers’ life satisfaction. The stakeholders ultimately provide guidance for Dr. Ahn’s recommendations on child welfare policies and programs for the state of Maryland, and aid her work in compiling legislative reports that the Maryland Department of Human Services uses to provide valuable feedback on the performance of local departments of social services. Furthermore, Dr. Ahn’s background in economic and social policy analysis allows her to calculate Minimum Adequate Rates for Children (MARC) to reflect the real costs of caring for a child in foster care system. Annually, she uses this information to determine gaps between current foster care reimbursement rates in Maryland and MARC rates for policymakers.
On her current methodological approaches:
Dr. Ahn approaches her research from an interdisciplinary perspective, combining economic, sociological and political theories with rigorous methodologies to tackle complex social problems. In her role as Principal Investigator of Child Welfare Accountability – Efficiency and Effectiveness of Child Welfare Services funded by Maryland Department of Human Services (MD DHS), she employs a mix-method approach to address the study’s goals. Dr. Ahn utilizes econometrics analysis including Probit and Tobit models to estimate effects of US welfare reform on low-income single mothers’ employment and income and multi-level modeling (MLM) of impacts of income inequality on workers’ life satisfaction. Dr. Ahn uses her research expertise to estimate impacts of workers’ attitude and supervisors’ support on implementation of family centered practice and variation of the impacts across jurisdictions. This mixed-methods approach increases the validity of her evaluations of childcare worker performance and child welfare service delivery systems in Maryland. By conducting a Survival Analysis and Logistic Regression to examine length of foster parents services and effectiveness of agencies support for foster parents satisfaction, and reliability analysis of the instruments, she has been able to provide in-depth feedback of workers, supervisors, families, and youth involved in child welfare services and programs.
On how her research informs public policy decisions related to work, family and well-being:
Recently, Dr. Ahn has noticed that the National Poverty Centers have become increasing focused on child welfare outcomes. She has received many opportunities to present her findings from her studies on family welfare policy, current Child Welfare Accountability (CWA) projects, QA and FCP research projects at conferences held by the National Association of Social Workers in Washington D.C. and the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR). Her hope is that more policymakers will claim a stake in child and family policies, specifically exploring the relationship between child welfare outcomes and public assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In order to move the conversation forward, she frequently presents her research findings on child and family policy at international and national conferences. Most notably, she presented on social protection systems in the US and Korea, and social welfare policy strategies to prepare for reunification of Korea at an international conference and at the Library of Congress.
Through a nationwide selection process, Associate Professor Haksoon Ahn received the 2016 Outstanding Middle Career Faculty Achievement Award from Korean American Social Work Educators Association (KASWEA) at the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). We congratulate her on this achievement!