Sarah A Font

Sarah A Font

Associate Professor of Sociology

Associate Director, Graduate Program in Sociology

612 Oswald Tower
University Park , PA 16802
Office Phone: (814) 863-2259

Curriculum Vitae

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  1. Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Texas at Austin
  2. Ph.D. Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  3. Master of Social Work, Western Michigan University
  4. Bachelor of Social Work, Western Michigan University


Research Interests

My research focuses on various issues related to child maltreatment and the child welfare system, including the measurement of child maltreatment, the causes and effects of involvement with the child protection and foster care systems, case-level decision-making, and system effectiveness.

Google Scholar Profile


Links to Public Reports and General Interest Work


April 2022: Timely Permanency for Children in Foster Care: Revisiting Core Assumptions about Children’s Options and Outcomes. Court Review [Journal of the American Judges Association]. Special issue on the Adoption and Safe Families Act.

February 2022: Longer stays in foster care can harm Illinois children.  Chicago Tribune. 

December 2021. Opinion: Why are states putting child sex abuse victims back in the home of their abusive parents? USA Today.

September, 2021. What Child Protection Is For. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.

January, 2021. What Lessons Can the Child Welfare System Take from the COVID-19 Pandemic? Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.

November 2020. Foster Care: How We Can, and Should, Do More for Maltreated Children. [Font & Gershoff] Social Policy Report.

July, 2020. The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Children in Foster Care [Blog Post]. Penn State Social Science Research Institute: Insights from Experts. 

March, 2020. Data Challenges and Opportunities in Child Welfare. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.

January, 2020. Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Pennsylvania. [Font, Miyamoto, & Pinto] PA: Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

Select Articles (Public access versions)

What Does Child Protective Services Investigate as Neglect? A Population-Based Study  

Patterns of intergenerational child protective services involvement

 It’s not “Just poverty”: Educational, social, and economic functioning among young adults exposed to childhood neglect, abuse, and poverty.

Child Protective Services Decision-Making: The Role of Children’s Race and County Factors

The Organizational Context of Substantiation in Child Protective Services Cases

Patterns of intergenerational child protective services involvement

Prevalence and Risk Factors for Early Motherhood Among Low-Income, Maltreated, and Foster Youth


Recent/Ongoing Projects

System and Social Determinants of the Health of Foster Children

(Funding: R01 HD095946, NICHD)

This project investigates the impact of foster care, and specific experiences within foster care, on the physical and mental health of children exposed to abuse or neglect. The Aims of this proposal are: (1) Examine the effects of foster care on health over time; (2) Investigate the influence of placement experiences on foster children’s health during and after exiting foster care; and (3) Evaluate the effects of maintaining family connections on foster children’s health during and after exiting foster care.

Book: Font, Sarah A., and Elizabeth T. Gershoff. 2020. Foster Care and “Best Interests of the Child”: Integrating Research, Policy, and Practice. Springer Advances in Child and Family Policy and Practice.

This brief volume examines the U.S. foster care system and seeks to explain why the foster care system functions as it does and how it can be improved to serve the best interest of children. It defines and evaluates key challenges that undermine child safety and well-being in the current foster care system. Chapters highlight the competing values and priorities of the system as well as the pros and cons for the use of foster care. In addition, chapters assess whether the performance objectives in which states are evaluated by the federal government are sufficient to achieve positive health and well-being outcomes for children who experience foster care. Finally, it offers recommendations for improving the system and maximizing positive outcomes.


Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Pennsylvania 

(Funding: Center for Rural Pennsylvania)

Final Report: Font, Sarah A., Sheridan Miyamoto, and Casey Pinto. 2020. Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Pennsylvania. PA: Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Available at:

Media Coverage/Interviews related to project: 

State handling of child abuse records and appeals process criticized in new report The Tribune-Democrat [Harrisburg, PA] (January, 25, 2020) 

Project PA | The process of investigating child abuse Local 21 Harrisburg [Television].  (February, 21, 2020)


Emerging Adulthood for Maltreated and Foster Youth  

(Funding: R21HD091459, NICHD) 

This project uses a statewide, longitudinal, administrative dataset that includes the entire population of CPS-involved youth and youth whose families participated in social welfare benefit programs in Wisconsin to examine how a range of maltreatment and OHC experiences are associated with social, educational, and economic outcomes in emerging adulthood, including employment and earnings, benefit receipt, educational attainment, fertility timing, and incarceration, paying close attention to the type(s) of maltreatment experienced as well as OHC placement characteristics (type, length, number of placements) and type of exit from OHC (aging out, reunification or adoption). Finally, we will examine the extent to which young adult parents who experienced childhood CPS involvement or OHC are likely to become the subject of a CPS investigation or OHC placement regarding their own children. This research extends prior work in this area by using multiple identification strategies and comparison (counterfactual) groups to reduce bias in estimated associations of both maltreatment and OHC with subsequent outcomes. It has implications for informing policy and practice to better prepare CPS-involved youth to successfully transition to adulthood and, thereby, for reducing subsequent public expenditures on this population.

Publications from project:

Font, Sarah A., Lawrence M. Berger, Jessie Slepicka, and Maria Cancian. 2021. “Foster Care, Permanency, and Risk of Prison Entry.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 58(6):710–54.
Font, S. A., & Maguire-Jack, K. (2020). It’s not “Just poverty”: Educational, social, and economic functioning among young adults exposed to childhood neglect, abuse, and poverty. Child Abuse & Neglect101

Font, Sarah, Maria Cancian, Lawrence M. Berger, and Anna DiGiovanni. 2020. “Patterns of Intergenerational Child Protective Services Involvement.” Child Abuse & Neglect 99 (January): in press.

Font, Sarah A., Maria Cancian, and Lawrence M. Berger. 2019. “Prevalence and Risk Factors for Early Motherhood among Low-Income, Maltreated, and Foster Youth.” Demography 56:261-284. 

Font, Sarah A., Lawrence M. Berger, and Maria Cancian. 2018. "Permanency and the Educational and Economic Attainment of Foster Youth in Early Adulthood." American Sociological Review  83(4):716-743. 

Media Coverage/Interviews:

Wisconsin Study Finds Foster Care Besting Reunification on Education Outcomes Chronicle of Social Change (July 23, 2018). 


Research Interests:

Family and Relationships:

child abuse and maltreatment, foster care, family policy