Research

I study social inequality and family life, focusing on how families engage with state systems, how these systems affect families, and how these processes perpetuate adversity and inequality. My research is situated in three empirical domains: child protective services, school choice, and residential decision-making.

Child Protective Services and State Intervention into Families Facing Adversity

My primary line of research focuses on Child Protective Services (CPS). In a book project and articles in progress, I examine CPS as a state response to families facing adversity, analyzing the implications of a system that can provide support to families but that also wields coercive power. This research draws on interviews and ethnographic fieldwork with agency social workers, mandated reporters of child maltreatment, and mothers subject to CPS investigations in Connecticut as well as on fieldwork with low-income mothers in Rhode Island. Previous work, published in Social Forces, showed how CPS concerns inform how low-income mothers mobilize institutional resources for their families. This work received the Candice Rogers Student Paper Award from the Eastern Sociological Society and the Student Paper Award from the Poverty, Class, and Inequality Division of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

I also study the spatial patterning of CPS contact, using child welfare system administrative data from Connecticut. In an article recently published in Child Abuse & Neglect, I estimate the prevalence of CPS reports during early childhood and of substantiated CPS reports during childhood, for children living in neighborhoods with different poverty rates and racial compositions. I have shared findings from my qualitative and quantitative analyses with academic, policy, and practitioner audiences.

Parents Selecting Schools in a Context of Compulsory Choice

Another line of research examines school choice in Boston Public Schools, where all families submit choices at registration and children have no "default" or guaranteed zoned neighborhood school. A recent article in Sociological Forum analyzed how parents differentially mobilize their social networks in selecting schools. Additionally, I studied late registration in school choice in collaboration with Sarah Faude, using administrative data, survey data, and qualitative interviews to show how bureaucratic processes such as registration deadlines foster inequality in school access and school choice experiences. This study, published in Sociology of Education, received the Student Paper Award from the Educational Problems Division of the Society for the Study of Social Problems. My research on school choice in Boston has been supported by the Boston Area Research Initiative, the Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Program at Harvard, and Harvard's Center for American Political Studies.

Residential Decision-Making Among Parents of Young Children

Finally, with collaborators, I study how parents think about, search for, and decide among housing and neighborhood options. Our team conducted over 250 interviews with parents of young children in the Cleveland and Dallas metropolitan areas. Current research examines parents' residential search logics (with Hope Harvey, Kathryn Edin, and Stefanie DeLuca, forthcoming in Social Forces); parents' expressed aspirations for neighborhood racial/ethnic diversity (with Jennifer Darrah-Okike and Hope Harvey, forthcoming in City & Community); and the social patterning of housing "finds" not resulting from active searches (with Hope Harvey, in progress).