Claudette Grinnell-Davis, PhD, MS, MSW

Image is a headshot of Claudette Grinnell-Davis, set inside the four corners of the ReSHAPING logo.

Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work, University of Oklahoma, Tulsa

Claudette Grinnell-Davis is an assistant professor in the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work at the University of Oklahoma. Her research interests in child welfare prevention and the etiology of child maltreatment grew out of her practice experience as a family reunification specialist, where she realized that the services parents received while separated from their children did not correspond well to the underlying reasons for removal from care. Operating from a clinical ecosystems framework, she maintains that multiple risk factors and pathways into child welfare system involvement requires a constellation of interventions available for best results; the primary problem then becomes identifying and prioritizing intervention targets. She is also particularly interested on how to improve child welfare outcomes for Native American parents and how historical trauma influences maladaptive parenting practices. Dr. Grinnell-Davis is a non-status descendant of Anishinaabeg peoples of the Canadian Great Lakes region and identifies culturally as Indigenous.

What led you to this work? 

For me, it was two former clients. One, by the time she emancipated from care, already had 3 children. While this would be considered high-risk for her children, for her personally it directed her life in ways that resulted in positive change. She was able to raise her children and keep them with her despite overwhelming odds. The other client was a youth in foster care who deliberately set out to get pregnant and then, because of parenting frustrations, ended up losing the baby permanently. Her story was filled with a narrative of parentification and unreasonable developmental expectations and it was clear she expected this baby to do something for her that babies were never intended to do. Understanding the differences in these end results is critically important to knowing how to intervene – not only to prevent pregnancy but to consider whether foster youth need parenting training specific to their contexts or whether normal parenting interventions will do.

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

I have three primary questions around this topic. First is the question of whether there are youth in foster care who believe having children is a perceived benefit and what that benefit may be. Understanding this is important for my second question, which is whether youth with foster care histories need pregnancy prevention and parenting support that is different from what other young parents need.
Finally, I want to know more about the experiences of Native youth aging out of care and their parenting practices and supports. Historical trauma resulted in part from the deliberate dismantling of indigenous family structure through the boarding school experience and the loss of cultural practices due to various federal laws that made such practices illegal until the 1970s. Despite the guidelines of the Indian Child Welfare Act, disproportionality of Indian children in the American child welfare system remains to this day, not to mention the many children under tribal jurisdiction. Families are the fundamental building block of any society, and given the number of Indian children who have been in foster care, we need to better understand their needs, beliefs, values,and community priorities to promote the well-being of Indian children.

Their research