Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Nancy Romero-Daza, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rebecca Zarger, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mary Armstrong, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Neil Jordan, Ph.D.


neglect, organizational culture, poverty, systems


This dissertation explored changes in structure, governance, perception and practice within Florida's child welfare system over a ten-year period (2001-2011) inclusive of two concurrent, statewide reform efforts: the privatization of child welfare services and implementation of a Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration. Using an anthropological perspective and holistic approach, the child welfare system is presented as a type of meta-organizational culture inclusive of subsystems and subcultures which are all embedded in historical and socioeconomic context that involves alternations between child safety and family preservation approaches to care.

Guided by a grounded theory approach to qualitative data analysis, content analysis of child welfare organization documents, child welfare stakeholder interview transcripts, community governance partner surveys, and observational field notes was performed. Findings are presented within a systems theory framework and include emphasis on (1) systems change as a nonlinear, evolving process that takes time to sustain real change, 2) externalities and emergencies, as well as response to crises as ever present influential factors impacting system change and the creation of shared meaning and perceptions of, 3) the challenges involved in aligning structural views on poverty with practice models that more often employ the idea that poverty is individual, 4) the merit of privatization for social services if the reform is designed to create a public private partnership inclusive of caring for all children and families in a community, and 5) the value of flexibility and variance in local system design in order to best match a community's needs and resources.