From rural Minnesota to enacting change around the world: Rosemary Sarri’s commitment to child welfare

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Rosemary Sarri.

This post is part of a series that explores how Center for Political Studies (CPS) researchers came to their work. Here, we trace the trajectory of CPS, School of Social Work, and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri.

Rosemary SarriA strong Scandinavian influence could be felt in the progressive causes and commitment to community development in Sarri’s native rural Minnesota. Though her family had little money, Sarri and her siblings were urged to attend college. Sarri went onto attend the University of Minnesota, graduating with deepened commitment to social engagement but no clear sense of a career path.

Sarri spent time working as a social worker in a settlement house, with gangs, and for a 4-H club. The political and social backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement strengthened her dedication to justice. Sarri soon returned to the University of Minnesota to complete her Masters in Social Work. It was during this time that she zeroed in on a question: How are we going to foster our young adult population?

Seeking answers, Sarri moved onto complete a Ph.D. in Social Work and Sociology at the University of Michigan. Sarri continued to work in academia. Her longitudinal studies especially reveal two troubling facts. First, kids in the child welfare system are the same kids who drift into the justice system. Second, this problem is getting worse. Her research brings awareness to this under-served part of society.

In addition to research, Sarri combats these problems on the ground. She has worked directly with child offenders in a variety of contexts, served on several presidential commissions, and worked to build infrastructures for child welfare systems on every continent except Antarctica.

Despite witnessing the entrenched and growing nature of these issues, Sarri remains optimistic. Though she understands that it would be easy to cower in the face of this societal blight, a simple question drives her to fight for the lives of children: How can I help make this better?

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