November is American Indian Heritage Month, and The Graduate School spoke with Annie Francis, a Ph.D. candidate in the UNC School of Social Work, about her work to improve outcomes for American Indian children in foster care.
Annie Francis ’07 (’11 MPA; MSW), a Ph.D. candidate in the UNC School of Social Work, is a triple Tar Heel who is working to improve outcomes for American Indian children in foster care in North Carolina. Specifically, Francis is working toward improving compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which is aimed at supporting American Indian children who enter the foster care system.
“There’s a gap in the research, and I felt like if I don’t do it, who is going to? I had to step up,” Francis said.
Francis, from Warrenton, North Carolina, is a first-generation graduate student and is part of the Haliwa-Saponi tribal community. She is the 2021-2022 Sequoyah Dissertation Completion Fellow. The Sequoyah fellowship provides support for final-year doctoral students who are American Indian or conduct research on American Indian topics. Sequoyah fellows also benefit from interdisciplinary programming offered by the Royster Society of Fellows, an initiative of The Graduate School.
“It means that people believe in my research and in my ability to conduct and to finish that research,” Francis said. “For me, it was a confidence booster and as a researcher that I would also be representing the Royster Society of Fellows.”
Francis also credits The Graduate School’s Diversity and Student Success program and its Carolina Grad Student F1RSTS initiative, which is geared toward building a sense of community among first-generation graduate students.
“I hope that I serve as a role model that you can achieve your goals when you have opportunities,” Francis said. “I want to make sure that those from historically excluded groups have more opportunity through my research.”
After having worked as a social worker, Francis saw how policies sometimes did more damage than good for American Indian children in foster care. She hopes to improve upon compliance and accountability with the law, including reunification and adoption efforts, especially among communities who face disadvantages.
“That’s what motivated me to come back and get my Ph.D.,” Francis said. “Kids in foster care tend to have poorer outcomes later in life. And, American Indians tend to have even poorer outcomes. I want to reduce the gap in those negative experiences.”