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. I have shared findings from my qualitative and quantitative analyses with academic, policy, and practitioner audiences.

Child Protective Services and State Intervention into Families Facing Adversity

My primary line of research focuses on Child Protective Services (CPS). I examine CPS as a state response to families facing adversity, analyzing the workings and implications of a system that can offer therapeutic support to families but that also wields coercive power. This research, which I am developing into a book manuscript, 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. Most recently, I analyzed the wide reach of CPS intervention and its implications in the American Sociological Review, summarized in a brief for the Council on Contemporary Families and an op-ed for The Imprint. Previous work, published in Social Forces, showed how CPS concerns inform how low-income mothers mobilize institutional resources for their families.

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. In a study forthcoming in Housing Policy DebateLindsey Bullinger and I analyze the relationship between evictions and neighborhood CPS reports.

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. An article in Sociological Forum analyzed how parents differentially mobilize their social networks in selecting schools. Additionally, a study published in Sociology of Education with Sarah Faude drew on 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.

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, examining parents’ residential search logics (with Hope HarveyKathryn Edin, and Stefanie DeLuca, in Social Forces); parents’ expressed aspirations for neighborhood racial/ethnic diversity (with Jennifer Darrah-Okike and Hope Harvey, in City & Community); and the social patterning of housing “finds” not resulting from active searches (with Hope Harvey, in progress).