Lenette Azzi-Lessing

Clinical ProfessorChair, Macro Social Work DepartmentCoordinator, Children, Youth & Families Specialization

Specialties

• Children, Families, and Poverty Policy

• Promoting Equity and Inclusion in Human Service Organizations

• Child Welfare System Reform

• Young Children in the Child Welfare System

• International Social Work

• Social Work Practice with Young Children

• Home Visiting Programs for Families with Young Children

Lenette Azzi-Lessing

faculty details

Bio

Lenette Azzi-Lessing, MSW, PhD is a clinical professor of social work, chair of the Macro Social Work Department, coordinator of the Specialization in Children, Youth and Families, and founder and co-leader of the partnership to prevent violence against young children in South Africa at the Center for Innovation in Social Work and Health. She is also a senior fellow at the Child Welfare League of America, where she has been engaged in promoting the wellbeing of vulnerable children and families through reform of the child welfare system, particularly in the areas of racial and economic justice.

Dr. Azzi-Lessing’s work focuses on improving the wellbeing and life chances of vulnerable, young children and their families, particularly those living in poverty and those involved in the child protective system, with an emphasis on racial and social justice. Dr. Azzi-Lessing is the author of “Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children” (Oxford, 2017), as well as numerous other publications.

Prior to joining the faculty of BU, she was Professor of Social Work at Wheelock College, the founding director of Wheelock’s Graduate Certificate Program in Early Childhood Mental Health, and faculty leader of its Partnership for Early Childhood Development in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Dr. Azzi-Lessing was named a Fulbright Specialist by the U.S. State Department in 2017.

She has developed and taught a broad range of courses and provided training and consultation throughout the United States, in South Africa, where she has also conducted research, and in other countries. In addition to her academic work, Dr. Azzi-Lessing has more than 25 years’ experience as a social worker, agency leader, and policy advocate.

Education

MSW

Washington University

PhD (Human Development and Family Studies)

University of Connecticut

Courses

SSW IS 800 Seminar: Children, Youth, and Families
SSW WP 707 Programs and Policies for Children and Families
SSW MP 775 Strategic Management
SSW WP 700 Social Policy I
SSW MP 759 Social Work Practice with Communities and Organizations
SSW MP 787 Leadership for Equity and Inclusion

Courses

SSW IS 800 Seminar: Children, Youth, and Families
SSW WP 707 Programs and Policies for Children and Families
SSW MP 775 Strategic Management
SSW WP 700 Social Policy I
SSW MP 759 Social Work Practice with Communities and Organizations
SSW MP 787 Leadership for Equity and Inclusion

Publications

Azzi-Lessing, L., & Sinha, V. (2021). Special Foreword: Family poverty, racism, and the pandemic: From crises to opportunity for transformation. Child Welfare, Special Issue on Poverty, Race and Child Welfare, 99(3&4), vii-xv. 

Schmidt, K. & Azzi-Lessing, L. (2021) Neglect of young children in South Africa: Implications for prevention, identification, and intervention. Child Welfare, 98(6), 29-51.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2021). Reform the child welfare system to protect vulnerable children. Commentary in the The HIll, Washington, DC. https://thehill.com/opinion/judiciary/537188-reform-the-child-welfare-system-to-protect-vulnerable-children 

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2021). Child poverty and the pandemic, in COVID-19 and Child Welfare: Challenges and Responses, Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2017). Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor Is Harming Our Most-Vulnerable Children. New York: Oxford University Press.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2020)Children in foster care face deeper jeopardy during the coronavirus pandemic. Published on The Conversation,
August 11, 2020, 8.09am EDT https://theconversation.com/children-in-foster-care-face-deeper-jeopardy-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-141263

Azzi-Lessing, L., & Schmidt, K. (2019) The experiences of early childhood development home visitors in South Africa. South African Journal of Childhood Education, 9(1).

Azzi-Lessing, L., & Schmidt, K. (2019). Child abuse and neglect: The response of early childhood development programmes. In A. Moodley, N. Sotuku, K. Schmidt, and N. Phatudi (Eds.), Early Childhood Care and Education (0–4): A Transdisciplinary Approach. South Africa: Oxford University Press.

Schmidt, K., Azzi-Lessing, L., & Moletsane, M. (2019). Responding to young children with behavioral, emotional, and learning challenges. In A. Moodley, N. Sotuku, K. Schmidt, and N. Phatudi (Eds.), Early Childhood Care and Education (0–4): A Transdisciplinary Approach. South Africa: Oxford University Press.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2019). Update to expert report prepared for Children’s Rights’ federal, class-action lawsuit on behalf of children harmed in the Arizona foster-care system.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2017). Expert report (60 pages) prepared for Children’s Rights’ federal, class-action lawsuit on behalf of children harmed in the Arizona foster-care system.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2013). Serving highly vulnerable families in home-visitation programs. Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol. 34(5), 376–390.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2011). Home-visitation programs: Critical Issues and future directions. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 26, 387-398.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2010). Growing together: Expanding roles for social work practice in early childhood settings. Social Work, 55(3).

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2010). Meeting the mental health needs of poor and vulnerable children in early care and education settings. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 12(1).

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2009). Quality support infrastructure in early childhood: still (mostly) missing. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 11(1).

Publications

Azzi-Lessing, L., & Sinha, V. (2021). Special Foreword: Family poverty, racism, and the pandemic: From crises to opportunity for transformation. Child Welfare, Special Issue on Poverty, Race and Child Welfare, 99(3&4), vii-xv. 

Schmidt, K. & Azzi-Lessing, L. (2021) Neglect of young children in South Africa: Implications for prevention, identification, and intervention. Child Welfare, 98(6), 29-51.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2021). Reform the child welfare system to protect vulnerable children. Commentary in the The HIll, Washington, DC. https://thehill.com/opinion/judiciary/537188-reform-the-child-welfare-system-to-protect-vulnerable-children 

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2021). Child poverty and the pandemic, in COVID-19 and Child Welfare: Challenges and Responses, Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2017). Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor Is Harming Our Most-Vulnerable Children. New York: Oxford University Press.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2020)Children in foster care face deeper jeopardy during the coronavirus pandemic. Published on The Conversation,
August 11, 2020, 8.09am EDT https://theconversation.com/children-in-foster-care-face-deeper-jeopardy-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-141263

Azzi-Lessing, L., & Schmidt, K. (2019) The experiences of early childhood development home visitors in South Africa. South African Journal of Childhood Education, 9(1).

Azzi-Lessing, L., & Schmidt, K. (2019). Child abuse and neglect: The response of early childhood development programmes. In A. Moodley, N. Sotuku, K. Schmidt, and N. Phatudi (Eds.), Early Childhood Care and Education (0–4): A Transdisciplinary Approach. South Africa: Oxford University Press.

Schmidt, K., Azzi-Lessing, L., & Moletsane, M. (2019). Responding to young children with behavioral, emotional, and learning challenges. In A. Moodley, N. Sotuku, K. Schmidt, and N. Phatudi (Eds.), Early Childhood Care and Education (0–4): A Transdisciplinary Approach. South Africa: Oxford University Press.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2019). Update to expert report prepared for Children’s Rights’ federal, class-action lawsuit on behalf of children harmed in the Arizona foster-care system.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2017). Expert report (60 pages) prepared for Children’s Rights’ federal, class-action lawsuit on behalf of children harmed in the Arizona foster-care system.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2013). Serving highly vulnerable families in home-visitation programs. Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol. 34(5), 376–390.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2011). Home-visitation programs: Critical Issues and future directions. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 26, 387-398.

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2010). Growing together: Expanding roles for social work practice in early childhood settings. Social Work, 55(3).

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2010). Meeting the mental health needs of poor and vulnerable children in early care and education settings. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 12(1).

Azzi-Lessing, L. (2009). Quality support infrastructure in early childhood: still (mostly) missing. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 11(1).

Presentations

Policies and Practices to Address the Needs of Highly Vulnerable Children and Families (12/3/21). Keynote Presentation at Hong Kong Association of Boys and Girls Clubs, Symposium on Early Childhood Intervention, Hong Kong. 

Child Poverty, Race, and the Pandemic (2021). Keynote Presentation at Boston University School of Social Work, Field Education Celebration, Boston. 

Panel Presentation on Family Poverty and the Pandemic at Child Welfare League of America National Conference: Lessons Learned from 2020: Reaching New Heights for Children and Families, Washington, DC.

Discussion of my book, Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children. Featured on PBS’ Stories in the Public Square television program, SIRIUS Radio, and Pell Center Podcast in 2019.

Disrupting Poverty's Harmful Impacts on Children's Life Chances. (September 19, 2019) Webinar for the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.

Providing Early Childhood Development Services to the Most Vulnerable Children and Families: Some Cross-National Considerations. (August 30, 2019) The Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.

The Experiences of Early Childhood Development Home Visitors in the Eastern Cape of South Africa (With Kim Schmidt). (August 29, 2019). Association of South African Social Work Education Institutions, Annual Conference, Cape Town, South Africa.

A Partnership for Building Capacity for Strengthening Families in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. (April 12, 2019) Presentation at Child Welfare League of America, Annual National Conference, Washington, DC.

Improving Services to Families with Multiple Vulnerabilities: Programmatic and Policy Considerations. (April 12, 2019) Presentation at Child Welfare League of America, Annual National Conference, Washington, DC.

Family Poverty and Child Maltreatment. (March 19, 2019) Presentation to Child Welfare League of America, National Commission for Policy and Practice.

Fighting Poverty in the New Normal. (July 17, 2018) Keynote presentation, Iowa Community Action Association Conference, Des Moines, IA.

Promising Programmatic Approaches for Families in Poverty. (July 17, 2018) Iowa Community Action Association Conference. Des Moines, IA.

Promoting the Wellbeing of Vulnerable Young Children and Their Families in South Africa and Globally. (May 25, 2018). Keynote presentation, Graduate Certificate Commencement Ceremony. University of Fort Hare, East London, South Africa.

Fighting Poverty in the New Normal. (October 3, 2017). Plenary presentation, New England Regional Community Action Conference, Hyannis, MA.

Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children. (September 27, 2017). Online Book Discussion, National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University.

Behavioral Health and Early Care and Education. (May10, 2017) Panelist, Harvard Medical School Leadership and Faculty Development Conference, Office of Diversity and Community Partnerships, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

Presentations

Policies and Practices to Address the Needs of Highly Vulnerable Children and Families (12/3/21). Keynote Presentation at Hong Kong Association of Boys and Girls Clubs, Symposium on Early Childhood Intervention, Hong Kong. 

Child Poverty, Race, and the Pandemic (2021). Keynote Presentation at Boston University School of Social Work, Field Education Celebration, Boston. 

Panel Presentation on Family Poverty and the Pandemic at Child Welfare League of America National Conference: Lessons Learned from 2020: Reaching New Heights for Children and Families, Washington, DC.

Discussion of my book, Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children. Featured on PBS’ Stories in the Public Square television program, SIRIUS Radio, and Pell Center Podcast in 2019.

Disrupting Poverty's Harmful Impacts on Children's Life Chances. (September 19, 2019) Webinar for the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.

Providing Early Childhood Development Services to the Most Vulnerable Children and Families: Some Cross-National Considerations. (August 30, 2019) The Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.

The Experiences of Early Childhood Development Home Visitors in the Eastern Cape of South Africa (With Kim Schmidt). (August 29, 2019). Association of South African Social Work Education Institutions, Annual Conference, Cape Town, South Africa.

A Partnership for Building Capacity for Strengthening Families in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. (April 12, 2019) Presentation at Child Welfare League of America, Annual National Conference, Washington, DC.

Improving Services to Families with Multiple Vulnerabilities: Programmatic and Policy Considerations. (April 12, 2019) Presentation at Child Welfare League of America, Annual National Conference, Washington, DC.

Family Poverty and Child Maltreatment. (March 19, 2019) Presentation to Child Welfare League of America, National Commission for Policy and Practice.

Fighting Poverty in the New Normal. (July 17, 2018) Keynote presentation, Iowa Community Action Association Conference, Des Moines, IA.

Promising Programmatic Approaches for Families in Poverty. (July 17, 2018) Iowa Community Action Association Conference. Des Moines, IA.

Promoting the Wellbeing of Vulnerable Young Children and Their Families in South Africa and Globally. (May 25, 2018). Keynote presentation, Graduate Certificate Commencement Ceremony. University of Fort Hare, East London, South Africa.

Fighting Poverty in the New Normal. (October 3, 2017). Plenary presentation, New England Regional Community Action Conference, Hyannis, MA.

Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children. (September 27, 2017). Online Book Discussion, National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University.

Behavioral Health and Early Care and Education. (May10, 2017) Panelist, Harvard Medical School Leadership and Faculty Development Conference, Office of Diversity and Community Partnerships, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

Grants

Three-year Fulbright Specialist Grant to teach and provide consultation to host institutions of higher education in other nations across the globe. (2017)

Co-author of $3.5 million planning grant awarded by the ELMA Foundation to University Fort Hare, Wheelock College, and South Africa Partners for early childhood/family support capacity–building project in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. (2014-16)

Awarded Gordon Marshall Fellowship to support work on my book: Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children. (2014)

Grants

Three-year Fulbright Specialist Grant to teach and provide consultation to host institutions of higher education in other nations across the globe. (2017)

Co-author of $3.5 million planning grant awarded by the ELMA Foundation to University Fort Hare, Wheelock College, and South Africa Partners for early childhood/family support capacity–building project in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. (2014-16)

Awarded Gordon Marshall Fellowship to support work on my book: Behind from the Start: How America’s War on the Poor is Harming Our Most Vulnerable Children. (2014)

Professional Activities and Certifications

2022-Present, Senior Fellow, Child Welfare League of America, Washington, DC. 

2021, Guest Co-Editor (with Vandna Sinha) of Child Welfare, Special Issue on Poverty, Race and Child Welfare, 99(3&4)

2018, Reviewer for National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Board on Children, Youth, and Families Congressional Report, Building an Agenda to Reduce the number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 years.

2015-ongoing The Center for States, Washington, DC. Expert consultant to provide capacity-building consultation to state public child welfare agencies.

2014-2019, Masibumbane Development Organization and South Africa Partners. Provided consultation to staff members, and to teachers and principals in eight early care and education centres located in an informal settlement in East London, South Africa.

2010-present, Children’s Rights, New York, NY. Consulting Expert in federal class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of children who were abused, neglected, and/or denied permanency in the Massachusetts and Arizona foster-care systems. Produced reports analyzing the system’s response to named-plaintiff children in state custody and provided testimony in depositions and during trial.

2013-Present, National Joint Commission for Policy and Practice, Child Welfare League of America, Washington, DC.

2009-2014, Advisory Committee, National Resource Center on In-Home Services for Children and Families, University of Iowa.

2003- 2012, Board of Directors, the Economic Progress Institute, Providence, RI
(Founding Board Chair from 2003 to 2009). The institute advocates for economic justice for low-income Rhode Islanders and serves as a resource to policymakers and members of the media.

1996 –2012, National Committee on Prevention, Child Protection and Family Services, Child Welfare League of America, Washington, DC. (Co-chair 2003-2012).

Professional Activities and Certifications

2022-Present, Senior Fellow, Child Welfare League of America, Washington, DC. 

2021, Guest Co-Editor (with Vandna Sinha) of Child Welfare, Special Issue on Poverty, Race and Child Welfare, 99(3&4)

2018, Reviewer for National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Board on Children, Youth, and Families Congressional Report, Building an Agenda to Reduce the number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 years.

2015-ongoing The Center for States, Washington, DC. Expert consultant to provide capacity-building consultation to state public child welfare agencies.

2014-2019, Masibumbane Development Organization and South Africa Partners. Provided consultation to staff members, and to teachers and principals in eight early care and education centres located in an informal settlement in East London, South Africa.

2010-present, Children’s Rights, New York, NY. Consulting Expert in federal class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of children who were abused, neglected, and/or denied permanency in the Massachusetts and Arizona foster-care systems. Produced reports analyzing the system’s response to named-plaintiff children in state custody and provided testimony in depositions and during trial.

2013-Present, National Joint Commission for Policy and Practice, Child Welfare League of America, Washington, DC.

2009-2014, Advisory Committee, National Resource Center on In-Home Services for Children and Families, University of Iowa.

2003- 2012, Board of Directors, the Economic Progress Institute, Providence, RI
(Founding Board Chair from 2003 to 2009). The institute advocates for economic justice for low-income Rhode Islanders and serves as a resource to policymakers and members of the media.

1996 –2012, National Committee on Prevention, Child Protection and Family Services, Child Welfare League of America, Washington, DC. (Co-chair 2003-2012).

Awards and Honors

2006, Congressional Angels in Adoption Award U.S. Congressional Coalition on Adoption, Washington, DC

2001, Children’s Services Champion Award
NRI Community Services, Woonsocket, RI

2001, 1989; Commissioner’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to The Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Administration for Children, Youth and Families; Washington, DC

1999–2000, Fellowship for Outstanding Non-Profit Leaders
The Rhode Island Foundation, Providence, RI

Awards and Honors

2006, Congressional Angels in Adoption Award U.S. Congressional Coalition on Adoption, Washington, DC

2001, Children’s Services Champion Award
NRI Community Services, Woonsocket, RI

2001, 1989; Commissioner’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to The Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Administration for Children, Youth and Families; Washington, DC

1999–2000, Fellowship for Outstanding Non-Profit Leaders
The Rhode Island Foundation, Providence, RI
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