Katherine Schumacher

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Chicago, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9652

Approve Date

April 16, 2018

Project Title

Schumacher, Katherine A., U. of Chicago, Chicago, IL - To aid research on 'An Ethnographic Study of Psychotropic Drugs and Professional Practices in Illinois's Child Welfare System,' supervised by Dr. E. Summerson Carr

Preliminary abstract: Youth in the American child welfare system are prescribed psychotropic drugs at rates 3 to 5 times higher than their non-child welfare involved peers on Medicaid and are significantly more likely to be simultaneously prescribed three or more drugs, many of which are prescribed in doses not approved by the F.D.A. While existing research tends to assume a causal link between psychotropic drug prescription and rates of mental illness or behavioral dysfunction among wards of the state, this study explores other possible reasons drugs have come to play such a prominent role in the child welfare system. For instance, psychotropic drugs may serve as a repository for certain forms of professional power, or they may be a medium through which organizations and caseworkers signal their fulfillment of particular mandates, or they may serve as scapegoats for the array of challenges child welfare systems face. This study sets aside the question of the capacity of psychotropic drugs to alter the emotions and behaviors of the youth who consume them to investigate what else drugs do in and to the child welfare system. Rather than treat drugs only as a particular kind of problem (or solution) deployed by professionals, I conceptualize drugs as institutional agents that influence the thoughts and behaviors not only of the children to whom they are prescribed but of the professionals and caregivers who prescribe, suggest and monitor them. This study will produce (1) a historical discourse analysis of the roles and relationships psychotropic drugs have generated within and between child welfare and other systems and (2) an ethnographic account of the social lives of drugs in a state child welfare system.