Director, Centre for the Study of Services to Children and Families
Cross-appointment (Social Work and Psychology)

ASC 453
phone: 2508078163


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. As a new social worker, her experience in child welfare also resulted in a life-long commitment to supporting child welfare workers in the performance of their duties. This commitment and her love of teaching led to a position as 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.

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 an internationally recognized study with John Fluke of the American Humane Association. The result of this three-year project 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 known 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.


Bachelor of Arts                Pennsylvania State University

Master of Social Work      State University of New York at Albany

PhD in Social Work           University of Southern California

Post-doctoral studies        The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health (Bloomberg School of Public Health)



Selected Funders

• Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)

• British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund (BDKDF)

• Canadian Institutes of Health Research

• Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

• British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development

• British Columbia Ministry of Labour and Citizens’ Services Funding

• U. S. Children’s Bureau, U.S. Administration for Children Youth and Families, USDHHS

• U. S. National Institute of Justice

• U. S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

• Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


Recent Chapters

  1. Wells, S. J., & Johnson, G. (2016 June). Child abuse and neglect. In C. Franklin (Ed.) Encyclopedia of social work. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Wells, S.J., Girling, S.J., and Vergara, A. (2014). Racial disparities in health services. In Fong, R., Dettlaff, A. J., Rodriguez, C., & James, J. (Eds.). Eliminating racial disproportionality and disparities: Multi-systems culturally competent approaches. NY: Columbia University Press.
  3. Wells, S. J. and Girling, S. J. (2014). Disproportionality and disparity in child welfare: An overview of definitions and methods of measurement, revised. In McRoy, R., & K. Belanger (Eds.) Examining Racial Disproportionality through Research: A Handbook for SW Education (Digital PDF) Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America Press.


Selected Project Reports & Reports that Served as Foundation for Public Review/Action

  1. Centre for the Study of Services to Children and Families. (2015, July). Innovations in service delivery in the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development final report. University of British Columbia: Kelowna, BC. Project funded by SSHRC and MCFD. Authorship included: Susan J. Wells, PI., Sarah Girling, Crystal Evanoff, Amanda Neufeld, Sarah McQuaid, Hilla Shlomi, Janice Cross, Priscilla Healey, and Andrew Vergara.
  2. Piescher, K., Snyder, E., LaLiberte, T., Nguyen, H., Wells, S. J. (2010). Comprehensive family assessment intake baseline study. Minneapolis: School of Social Work, University of Minnesota.


Selected Journal Articles

  1. Skrypek, M., Woodmass, K., Rockymore, M., Johnson, G., & Wells, S. J. (2017). Examining the potential for racial disparity in out-of-home placement decisions: A qualitative matched-pair study. Children and Youth Services Review, 75, 127-137.
  2. Woodmass, K., Weisberg, S., Shlomi, H., Rockymore, M., & Wells, S. J. (2017). Examining the potential for racial disparity in out-of-home placement decisions: A quantitative matched-pair study. Children and Youth Services Review, 75 , 96-109.
  3. Healey, P., Stager, M. L., Woodmass, K., Dettlaff, A. J., Vergara, A., Janke, R., & Wells, S. J. (2017). Cultural adaptations to augment health and mental health services: a systematic review. BMC Health Services Research, 17, 8. Available from:
  4. Vergara, A., Kathuria, P., Woodmass, K., Janke, R. & Wells, S. J. (2016). Effectiveness of culturally and linguistically appropriate adaptations to juvenile justice services. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 5, 85-103.  A journal of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Available from:
  5. Mundy, C., Neufeld, A., & Wells, S. J. (2016). A culturally relevant measure of client satisfaction in child welfare services. Children and Youth Services Review, 70, 177-189.
  6. Falconnier, L. A., Tomasello, N. M., Doueck, H. J., Wells, S. J., Luckey, H., & Agathen, J. M. (2010). Indicators of Quality in Kinship Foster Care. Families in Society, 9, 415-420.
  7. Bell, C. C., Wells, S. J., & Merritt, L. M. (2009). Integrating cultural competency and empirically-based practices in child welfare services: A model based on community psychiatry field principles of health. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 1206-1213.
  8. Wells, S. J. & Briggs, H. E. (Eds.) (2009). Cultural competence and evidence-based practice: Best friends, strangers or archrivals? Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 1147-1149.
  9. Wells, S. J., Merritt, L. M. & Briggs, H. E. (Eds.) (2009). Bias, racism and evidence-based practice: The case for more focused development of the child welfare evidence-base. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 1160-1171.
  10. Skrypek, M., Wells, S.J., Bauerkemper, K., Koranda, L, & Link, A. (2008). Developing a case typology for children in out-of-home care: Child welfare worker perspectives. Families in Society. 89, 302-311.
  11. Sedlak, A., Schultz, D. Wells, S.J., Lyons, P., Doueck, H.J., & Gragg, F. (2006). Child protection and justice systems processing of serious child abuse and neglect cases. Child Abuse & Neglect The International Journal, 30, 657-677.
  12. Sedlak, A., Doueck, H.J., Lyons, P., Wells, S.J., Schultz, D. & Gragg, F. (2005) Child maltreatment and the justice system: Predictors of court involvement. Research on Social Work Practice, 15, 389-403.


Selected Presentations

  1. Stene, K., Wells, S. J., & Ermacora, D. (2017 January 14). Measuring the Quality of Kinship Foster Care. 21st Annual Conference Society for Social Work and Research, New Orleans, LA.
  2. Aboriginal Concurrent Disorders Project Team (Gonneau, I., Derickson, C., Smith, D., Marshall, J., Schill, K., Wells, S.J., presenting). (2016 June 17). Aboriginal concurrent disorders project; a collaborative journey. 17th Canadian Collaborative Mental Health Conference, Kelowna, BC.
  3. Wells, S. J., Dettlaff, A., Healey, P., & Vergara, A. (2014, January). Effectiveness of adaptations to enhance cultural competence, appropriateness, and safety of health and mental health services. 18th Annual Conference Society for Social Work and Research, San Antonio, TX.
  4. Wells, S.J. (2012 October). A review of evidence-based practices in youth care. Aboriginal Child Welfare and Placement Issues. Directors of Child Welfare for Canada, Banff, Alberta, Canada.
  5. McQuaid, S., Erickson, K., Geddes, C. & Wells, S.J. (2012 May). Evaluation of the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s (MCF) Complex Care and Intervention (CCI) presentation of findings to MCFD central Interior Region managers. Kelowna, BC, Canada: Centre for the Study of Services to Children and Families. Findings presented by undergraduate directed studies students McQuaid and Erickson.