Kristen Ethier, PhD

Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice at the University of Chicago

Kristen Ethier is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice at the University of Chicago. She is also a gender affirming & somatic psychotherapist practicing in a community mental health setting. As an intersectional feminist social work practitioner and scholar, the aim of her research is to transform individual lives, interventions, and systems towards a vision of reproductive justice and family thriving. Her work has long been devoted to promoting sexual and reproductive health equity across several populations and promoting family thriving for, in particular, mothers and their children who experience oppression. Her most recent research investigates how child welfare involvement shapes the transition to parenthood for young mothers in foster care, the influence of Black mothers’ experiences of mothering under conditions of continuous traumatic stress and violence exposure, and evaluating interventions aimed at promoting equitable care engagement for young Black sexual minority people living with HIV. As a collaborative and interdisciplinary scholar, her work has been published in Social Service ReviewChild and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care.  

What led you to this work? 

I became immersed in reproductive health, rights, and justice work as an adolescent and began my career working as an abortion counselor and grassroots organizer. From there, I became interested in working with teenage parents and was the program director for a large home visiting and school-based support program for expectant and parenting young people in Massachusetts. It was there that we frequently worked with young mothers in foster care who lived in residential placements. In that work, I began to see how young mothers’ development as parents was not only shaped by their experiences of abuse, neglect, and separation from their families of origin, but also how the child welfare system policies and practices. That time and the stories of the mothers we served have stayed with me and inspire my research and activism.  

What research questions are you currently working on answering or what are you most interested in answering? 

My current research interests in my work with expectant and parenting youth in foster care focuses on (1) using community based participatory methods to understand how child welfare system policies, services, and practices shape family life for expectant and parenting youth in foster care and their children, (2) measuring long term outcomes for young parents and their children, and (3) understanding and developing best practices around how state and county child welfare systems in the U.S. support and resource the sexual and reproductive autonomy among young people in foster care.  

Their research

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