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Kristen Letkeman with daughter

Amplifying Children’s Voices: MSW Graduand Kristen Letkeman’s Dedication to Policy Research and Advocacy

April 29, 2024 — 

Kristen Letkeman, a Master of Social Work student graduating at Spring Convocation on June 4, has been awarded the 2023-24 Francine Lansdown and Gerison Lansdown Graduate Student Essay Award by The Landon Pearson Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights at Carleton University. This award, emphasizing critical thinking and exploration of children’s rights issues, recognizes Letkeman’s essay on the intersection of climate change, neoliberalism, and social work in safeguarding child rights. Her research sheds light on pressing issues facing today’s children, offering valuable insights for policymakers and practitioners.  

“Throughout my academic and professional career, I have focused on children’s rights, dedicating my MSW program to this cause. My experiences working directly with children have fueled my passion for research in this domain,” says Letkeman.  

Letkeman is a member of the Childhood Adversity and Resilience Research Training Platform (CARe RTP) a national training platform led by Drs. Afifi and Stewart-Tufescu in the Department of Community Health Sciences and the Faculty of Social Work. Drawing from her background in working with children, her research is driven by a commitment to amplifying children’s voices and addressing their unique needs.  

“Through my research, I have critically analyzed the development of policies and interventions that promote children’s rights and enhance their well-being,” says Letkeman.  

Letkeman has contributed to research that addresses a critical gap in understanding child welfare services in Canada. The lack of comprehensive national data on child maltreatment and welfare involvement prompted Letkeman and a team of researchers to conduct a rapid scoping review of intake and assessment processes used by child welfare services across jurisdictions in Canada. The findings highlight commonalities in definitions and assessments of risks and safety among these services, emphasizing the importance of standardizing variables and definitions in administrative child welfare data to improve the comparability of indicators across jurisdictions.  

“I have studied the impact of social and economic factors on children’s lives and explored effective ways to minimize their adverse effects,” says Letkeman.  

Letkeman’s research sheds light on the significance of a population-based evaluation of the child welfare system for identifying areas that require further support. She emphasizes the potential impact of the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families in reducing the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care and establishing national principles for child welfare services.  

“As a researcher, my main driving force is to ensure that children’s voices are heard and their needs are met. It is essential to understand their challenges and create safe environments where they can thrive.”  

Letkeman’s research extends to various critical areas, including incarcerated mothers and their children. Her work delves into programs such as the Mother-Child Program, striving to foster positive relationships between federally incarcerated women and their children by providing a supportive environment.  

“The Canadian Journal of Child Rights published my earlier work, a comic that analyzed the outcomes of two different narratives surrounding incarcerated mothers and babies behind bars from a child rights perspective,” says Letkeman.  

Last year, Letkeman was selected by the Faculty of Social Work to represent MSW student research at the 75th anniversary Faculty of Graduate Studies celebration. Through a compelling poster presentation titled “Developing National Indicators for the Intake and Assessment Phase of Child Welfare Services”, Letkeman showcased the research led by Dr. Stewart-Tufescu and funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada on national indicators for child welfare services’ intake and assessment phase, shedding light on crucial gaps in understanding child welfare services in Canada.  

“This research is fundamental to improve child welfare practices in Canada. Kristen has been instrumental to this work and a wonderful team member. Her contributions have been a tremendous help to advance knowledge to better understand child welfare practice on a national scale in Canada,” says Stewart-Tufescu. 

Looking ahead, Letkeman’s research endeavours aim to establish comprehensive population-based national indicators for child welfare services, utilizing administrative data to inform policy and practice.   

“I eagerly anticipate my graduation in June 2024, which will open up new opportunities for me to advance my career in social work in Manitoba. As I move forward, I am committed to conducting research in this field and advocating for policies and interventions that safeguard the rights of children,” says Letkeman.  

Her dedication to social work research embodies the values of inquiry, compassion, and commitment to social justice, promising meaningful impact in advancing child welfare practices and policies across Canada.  

“It is my belief that empowering children and ensuring that their voices are heard in decisions that impact their well-being is of utmost importance, both in my capacity as a social worker and as a mother,” says Letkeman.  

Letkeman’s outstanding achievements, including receiving the Lorna Thorlaksson IODE Scholarship and the Sarah Strong Foundation Memorial award during her first year of the MSW program, underscore her commitment to excellence and children’s advocacy.   

As Letkeman continues her journey, the Faculty of Social Work commends her outstanding achievements and eagerly anticipates the continued impact of her research endeavours in shaping a brighter future for children across Canada. 

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