Susan J. Wells

Professor Emerita

Psychology, Social Work
Other Titles: Director, Centre for the Study of Services to Children and Families
Phone: 250.807.8163

Research Summary

Investigates the possible causes of overrepresentation of African American children in the United States’ out-of-home care; re-entry into out-of-home care after reunification with family; stability of out-of-home care placements; explores child welfare case types to identify characteristics that more closely represent the complexity of cases seen in the field.

Courses & Teaching

Child welfare services and policy; program evaluation; research methods.


Professor Wells holds a joint appointment in Psychology and Social Work.

Early in her career, she focused on developing clinical skills in individual, marital, and family counseling. Her love of teaching led her to become an Instructor at the State University of New York at Albany where she taught practice classes and provided clinical supervision in Master of Social Work field instruction. At the same time, her experience in child welfare resulted in a life-long commitment to supporting child welfare workers in the performance of their duties.

After completing her PhD in social work and a National Institutes of Mental Health post-doctoral fellowship in psychiatric epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Professor Wells initiated her research in child welfare practice and policy with the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law. At the ABA, she conducted one of her most significant studies with John Fluke of the American Humane Association. The result of this three-year study was one of the most in-depth studies of the decision to investigate a report of maltreatment conducted to date.

At the Research Triangle Institute, “one of the world’s leading research institutes, dedicated to improving the human condition by turning knowledge into practice,” she focused on the quality of care provided in kinship foster care. At the University of Illinois, she developed the Children and Family Research Center. In the year 2000, she was named the Gamble-Skogmo Chair in Child Welfare and Youth Policy at the University of Minnesota where she conducted the first paired sample analysis of racial disparities in child welfare practice.

Her current work focuses on supporting high quality services and on cultural competence in child welfare practice and policy. Most recently, Professor Wells and her psychology students conducted a systematic review on the effectiveness of cultural adaptations of health and mental health services. With her psychology students, MSW students, and Centre associates, she is completing a study of Innovations in Public Social Services, supported in part by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant.  In her work with BC’s Ministry of Children and Family Development, Professor Wells and her team led the initial program evaluations of Dr. Chuck Geddes’ Complex Care Intervention for youth in foster care who have experienced complex trauma.

In addition to her research, Professor Wells believes one of her most important roles is giving her students experience in real-world research and writing for publication. She focuses on helping them learn many skills they will use in their future work. Students learn to think more critically, express their thoughts clearly, and manage their work more effectively, learning how to become the very best at whatever they choose to be.


Centre for the Study of Services to Children and Families


BA Pennsylvania State University
MSW State University of New York at Albany
PhD University of Southern California

Research Interests & Projects

Google Scholar 

Selected Grants & Awards

British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund
British Columbia Ministry of Labour and Citizens’ Services Funding
Canada Foundation for Innovation
Canadian Institute for Health Research
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
U. S. Children’s Bureau, U.S. Administration for Children Youth and Families
U. S. National Institute of Justice
U. S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention


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