Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy

Children, Youth and Families

Helen Ward

Senior Policy Associate
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238 Wishcamper Center

Contact Information

Phone: (207) 780-5831

Helen Ward, J.D., is a Senior Policy Associate at the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy at the Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine. Ms. Ward’s work in child and family policy has focused primarily on special populations navigating multiple systems, including families living in poverty, parents of children with special needs, families involved in the child welfare system and immigrant and refugee families. She has used mixed methods to understand these complex cross-systems issues and has applied the principles of participatory research to her work.  She is currently Project Director for the Colorado Child Welfare Training Project  for which she has developed cross-training curricula focusing on coordination between child welfare and other systems serving families and children including education, early intervention/preschool special education, the early care and education system, mental health, and immigration. She has also conducted several federally-funded research studies involving special populations including an examination of the child care and work challenges of parents of children with special needs, a study of the degree of coordination between child welfare and early care and education and early intervention in addressing the developmental needs of young children and research identifying the factors that influence child care decision-making of immigrant and refugee families and the implications for school readiness. She also was a consultant to an initiative at the Ford Foundation to address the needs of children of the working poor. This work involved conducting a series of parent focus groups in Virginia and writing a manual for Ford grantees and others working at the state level on how to do focus groups of low income parents.  Before joining the Muskie School, Ms. Ward worked as a consultant conducting research, policy analysis and evaluation work on children’s issues. Previously, she served as Deputy Director of the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS) where she worked in a variety of issue areas affecting child and family well-being, leading coalitions, developing legislative proposals, conducting policy analysis and authoring a number of publications, including a report on low birth weight and infant mortality and a comprehensive study of Connecticut’s child care system. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and her law degree from the Antioch School of Law.

Recent Publications:

Cutler Institute awarded $600,000 to help youth raised in foster system

Marty Zanghi

USM's Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy has been awarded a $600,000 grant to help young people raised in Maine's foster system to prepare for college and the workforce.

The money comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation as part of a $5.4 million national effort aimed at youth who are homeless or in either the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

"Many of these young people have suffered abuse or trauma and were raised in poverty and neglect," said Marty Zanghi, the Cutler Center's youth development director.

The money -- including an expected $400,000 more in matching funds -- will pay for contracted work with agencies in the target areas, starting with the greater Portland area and Penobscot, Kennebec and Somerset counties.

Nationally and in Maine, only about 3 percent of people who grow up in the foster care system achieve a college degree, he said.

"It's dramatically lower than the rate for the general population," Zanghi said. "It's a horrible outcome."

It doesn't have to be that way, though.

"There are young people that overcome these circumstances," he said. "I know people who have master's degrees and Ph.Ds."

The Casey Foundation's national effort is being called the "Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential" (LEAP) initiative.

The initiative is working on partnerships in Maine and nine other areas: Alaska, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York. In each case, people will adapt two evidence-based models to meet the needs of these youth, including support to address the trauma they may have experienced in their lives.

In Maine, the work will include a pair of successful programs, Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG) and Jobs for the Future. Results will be carefully tracked, Zanghi said.

After the first year, the program is expected to grow.

"Eventually, the additional help will be available to all children, 14 and over, in the foster care system in the state of Maine," Zanghi said.

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