Headshot of Dr. Antonio Garcia

Antonio Garcia, MSW, PhD

  • Associate Professor

  • Co-Director, Child Well-Being & Child Welfare (CW2) Specialization

  • Faculty Director, The Field Center for Children's Policy, Practice, & Research

3701 Locust Walk, Caster Building, D-15
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6214
  • office: 215.898.1592
  • fax: 215.573.2099

Research Interests

Disproportionality and racial disparities in child welfare (2006-current)

Dissemination and implementation of evidence-based interventions for youth and families of color in the child welfare system (2010-current)

Providers and system leaders’ acquisition, interpretation, and use of research evidence (2011-current)

Development and implementation of effective practices and resources for youth of color aging out of foster care (2008-current)

Intersection of immigration and foster care involvement among Latino youth and families (2008-current)

Dr. Antonio Garcia joined the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania as an Assistant Professor in 2012. His research trajectory is informed and enriched by his wealth of experience as a former Child Protective Services Worker and Supervisor in Washington State. Since earning his doctoral degree in Social Welfare at the University of Washington in 2010, his research and publication record to date has focused on understanding epidemiological trends related to children of color’s experiences in foster care; and etiological explanations for their increased risk of out-of-home displacement, and lack of access to and use of effective mental health interventions as compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Grounded in a transdisciplinary context, his post-doc training at the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center in San Diego, CA between 2010-2012 focused on identifying how to shrink the research to practice gap to ameliorate these disparities.

His rigorous training has provided Dr. Garcia with the ability and motivation to develop and implement a research agenda that is locally grounded and contextually driven. As part of a new initiative to ensure safety, permanency, and well-being, the City of Philadelphia has mandated the implementation of evidence-based interventions. While efficacy is well documented for several interventions, it is not clear to what extent policy mandates facilitate implementation, or if they ameliorate the gap between need for and use of evidence-based mental health interventions for the disproportionate number of African American and Latino children in foster care. The new city-wide initiative affords a unique opportunity for Dr. Garcia to address this critical question, and to illuminate other contextual and organizational factors that influence the implementation process. Dr. Garcia intends to capitalize on what we know to be effective to address the mental health needs of maltreated youth and to ensure that knowledge is effectively and efficiently translated in child welfare practice and policy contexts.

Dr. Garcia’s research interests also involve addressing the complexities of immigration and child welfare system involvement among Latino youth and families; and understanding how and under what conditions providers and system leaders in child-serving agencies gather, interpret, and use research to scale-up evidence-based practices.  His long-term career goal is to rely on science and community stakeholder input to develop effective dissemination and implementation strategies to promote the use of evidence-based or promising practices and policies for the racially/ethnically diverse pool of youth and families involved in multiple systems of care. In the future, Dr. Garcia will examine whether and how safety, permanency, and well-being are achieved by agencies that rely upon effective strategies to successfully implement evidence-based practices. As co-director of the Child Well-being & Child Welfare (CW2) Specialization, Dr. Garcia is equally passionate to bring his evolving knowledge and expertise to the classroom, having taught direct practice, child welfare micro practice and policy, and direct practice research in the past.

Select Publications

Kim, M. & Garcia, A. R. (2016). Measuring racial/ethnic disparities in mental health service use among children referred to the child welfare system. Child Maltreatment, DOI 1077559516656397.

Relying upon nationally representative longitudinal data of children referred to the CWS due to reports of maltreatment, findings show that racial and ethnic mental health service disparities increased between 1999 and 2009, regardless of which metrics were used to measure them. Even more alarming is that the estimated increases in racial disparity were even greater among the subset of youth who met criteria for clinically pervasive externalizing and internalizing problems.

Garcia, A. R., Kim, M., & DeNard, C. (2016). Context matters: The state of racial disparities in mental health services among youth reported to child welfare in 1999 and 2009. Children and Youth Services Review, 66, 101-108.

Relying upon nationally representative longitudinal data of children referred to the CWS due to reports of maltreatment, findings showed that disparities in utilization of mental health services are no longer detected after taking into account poverty and organizational climate, suggesting indeed that context plays a fundamental role in reducing disparities.

Garcia, A.R., Circo, E., DeNard, C., & Hernandez, N. (2015). Barriers and facilitators to delivering effective mental health practice strategies for youth and families served by the child welfare system. Children and Youth Services Review, 52, 110-122.

Findings from focus groups illuminated that caseworkers are likely to experience barriers and facilitators in delivering services to children and families of color at the micro, mezzo, and macro practice levels. At the macro level, “dissemination” of effective practice was emphasized. “Awareness” of effective practices was identified at the mezzo- level; and “implementation” was the focus at the micro-level. At the macro-level, funding, development of effective practice strategies, and proximity to effective services are likely to influence “dissemination”. Secondly, caseworkers agreed that at the mezzo-level, job support is needed to facilitate “awareness”, but to feel supported, they need effective training and opportunities to engage in interagency collaboration. Finally, at the micro-level, they suggested that cultural competence influences “implementation” of effective services. However, increased awareness around the social ills of stigma and the salience of “insider work” (i.e., engaging in reflexive practice) are needed to increase cultural competence. Emphasis on securing resources to promote (1) positive organizational culture and climate, and (2) communication and collaboration between mental health and child welfare agency providers will likely play a role in ameliorating racial service disparities.

Garcia, A. R., Kim, M., Palinkas, L. A., Snowden, L., & Landsverk, J. (2015). Socio-contextual determinants of Research Evidence Use in Public-Youth Systems of Care. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 1-10.

Socio-contextual drivers for 37 counties in California were gathered from public records in 2008; and public youth system leaders’ (n=96) perceptions of REU were measured via the Structured Interview of Evidence Use (SIEU) between 2008 and 2012. On average, leaders reported a SIEU score of 3.37 (SD = .33) on a five-point scale. Higher educational attainment increased the likelihood of REU. Positive relationships between scores on the “input” subscale and racial minority concentration and poverty were detected.  Results suggest leaders gather evidence to work effectively within poor and minority communities, but may decide to not rely upon the evidence to inform practice. Findings underscore the need to understand these relationships and hire leaders who are trained to use evidence.

Garcia, A.R., O’Reily, A., Matone, M., Kim, M., Long, J., & Rubin, D. (2014). The influence of caregiver depression on children in non-relative foster care versus kinship care placements. Maternal and Child Health Journal.

Findings show that emotional and behavioral outcomes are more likely to improve among youth in kinship care when caregivers demonstrate a reduction in depression over time or are never depressed. Findings lend to policy relevance for child welfare systems to allocate additional resources to strengthen and support the kinship placement for their sake and for the children they care for.

Greeson, J.K., Garcia, A.R., Kim, Minseop, & Courtney, M. (2014). Foster youth & social support: The first RCT of independent living programming. Research on Social Work Practice.

This study evaluates the effectiveness of Massachusetts’ Adolescent Outreach Program for Youths in Intensive Foster Care (Outreach) for increasing social support among enrolled youth. Outreach did not increase foster youth’s social support, compared to services as usual. No racial/ethnic disparities in program effect were detected. Findings underscore the need to develop and implement more intensive services to increase the odds of social support.

Garcia, A.R., Palinkas, L.A., Snowden, L., & Landsverk, J. (2013). Looking beneath and in-between the hidden surfaces: A critical review of defining, measuring and contextualizing mental health service disparities in the child welfare system. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(10), 1727–1733.

Based upon a critical review of child welfare and public health research, the authors’ conclude that there remains a lack of clarity and consistency with which to measure, monitor, and contextualize disparities. Recommendations are offered to generate and articulate a clear definition that reveals, rather than conceals, conceptual and methodological innovation. These efforts will bring us closer to understanding and ameliorating racial and ethnic disparities in access to and use of mental health services for youth in foster care.

Garcia, A., Aisenberg, A., & Harachi, T. (2012). Pathways to service inequities among Latinos in the child welfare system. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(5),1060–1071.

Relying upon Grounded Theory to analyze focus group data collected from caseworkers, the authors’ illuminated factors that contribute to the increasing numbers of Latino children in the foster care system, including acculturative stress; and lack of culturally congruent services, language interpreters, and bilingual foster care providers.

Garcia, A.R., Pecora, P, Harachi, T., & Aisenberg, A. (2012). Institutional predictors of developmental outcomes among racially diverse foster care alumni. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(4), 573-584.

Secondary data analyses of retrospective interviews with adults who were formerly placed in foster care (alumni) were conducted to identify predictors of mental health, education, and employment outcomes. Findings show that having access to a wide array of services while placed in foster care and feeling prepared to leave foster care were salient in predicting education and mental health outcomes among African Americans and Caucasians, but not among Latinos. Given that the majority of the alumni left the foster care system living independently, future research should be devoted to understanding how independent living services and resources may be enhanced to promote positive adult developmental outcomes.

Garcia, A. & Courtney, M. (2011). Prevalence and predictors of service utilization among racially and ethnically diverse adolescents in foster care diagnosed with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Journal of Public Child Welfare, (5), 521-545.

This study identifies predictor of mental health, substance abuse disorders, and service utilization among older youth aging out of foster care. Findings show that African American teens are three times less likely than Caucasian teens in foster care to utilize services, controlling for need, gender, and placement setting.

SP2 News

Faculty & Research, Global Engagement

International Experts Assemble to Examine, Investigate Public Health and Epidemics

On May 13 and 14, Jennifer Prah Ruger, PhD, and other international scholars and public health experts will assemble in...

Students from the MSSP 797 course in Havana, with instructor Azahara Palomeque

Student Life, Global Engagement

Social Issues Through a Global Lens: SP2 Students Reflect on Their Immersion Experience in Cuba

For students in the Master of Science in Social Policy (MSSP) program at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), having both a...

Faculty & Research

National Survey Examines Emergency Department Management of Deliberate Self-Harm

How routinely do emergency room staff members properly provide help to individuals who present for self-harm? Do they appropriately assess...

SP2 Student Emily Berkowitz presents at the APPAM Student Conference

Student Life

Students Present Policy Research on Housing, Immigration, Harassment

Four students from the Penn School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) shared their research across a wide range of...

Discover More