PhD candidate analyzes a foster care program to support system improvement

Published January 31, 2024


Seventy F. Hall

Seventy F. Hall.

Seventy F. Hall, a PhD candidate in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, joined colleagues around UB and in the community to publish a new paper in the Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making.

The study — titled “The Context of Care: Abstraction Hierarchy Modeling of Therapeutic Foster Care Programs” — looks at Hillside, a human service organization in Rochester. Focusing on Hillside's assessment and treatment planning work in therapeutic foster care, the researchers analyzed and constructed a visual model of this complex system to help Hillside better understand how it allocates services.

According to the study, the agency could use insights from the resulting model to improve system design and reduce administrative load.

Connor Wurst, a PhD student in the UB Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, was lead author on the study.

Wurst and Hall's co-authors were Huei-Yen Winnie Chen, PhD, Ann Bisantz, PhD, and Kenneth Joseph, PhD, all faculty members in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Laura Maggiulli, MSW ’07, PhD ’14, director of research and business intelligence at Hillside; and Melanie Sage, PhD, a tech equity researcher and adjunct instructor in the School of Social Work.


Therapeutic foster care agencies provide temporary placements and a range of services to at-risk youth to help ensure their safety, permanency and well-being. The practitioners that plan such care operate under heavy caseloads, limited resources and high stakes. There is significant interest in supporting these practitioners with various technological interventions, but their work and the context around it is still poorly understood. This study aims to better understand the current assessment and treatment planning work in therapeutic foster care.

We used the abstraction hierarchy modeling approach to outline the purposes, values, constraints, processes and tools that define the workplace ecology encountered by care coordinators and clinicians from therapeutic foster care programs at Hillside, a collaborating human service organization. The resulting abstraction hierarchy was closely examined to identify areas for interventions and design implications.

Graphic with hands raised.

This research contributes to one of the Grand Challenges for Social Work tackling our nation's toughest social problems: Ensure healthy development for youth.