Elsie M. Pinkston, distinguished expert on child welfare, 1937-2012

Elsie M. Pinkston, professor emerita at the School of Social Service Administration and a nationally recognized authority on child welfare and parental interactions, died May 31. She was 74.

At SSA, she directed the Program Procedures Project in child welfare and previously directed the Elderly Support Project and the Parent Partnership Program, as well as programs in parent education and home-based parent training. 

“The legacy Elsie bestowed upon SSA is twofold: first, the ethical imperative to use empirical methods to inform social work practice at all levels, as well as a generosity of spirit, which made her a valued mentor to countless master’s and doctoral students,” said Tina Rzepnicki, the David and Mary Winton Green Professor at SSA.

Pinkston received her undergraduate degree in 1969 and a PhD in 1973 in developmental and child psychology, both from the University of Kansas. She joined the SSA faculty in 1973, where she co-founded the Applied Behavior Analysis Course Sequence. 

She was the lead author of books on behavioral methods and case studies in social work: Effective Social Work Practice, and Care of the Elderly: A Family Approach. She was also co-editor of Environment and Behavior.

As a pioneer in behavioral social work practice, she published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, Behavior Therapy, The Gerontologist, Social Service Review and Social Work.

The Child Welfare League of America published an ethics manual, Ethical Child Welfare Practice, Volume 1: Clinical Issues, developed in collaboration with her staff and the Office of Inspector General, IDCFS. 

Pinkston consulted internationally on behavioral family treatment, and her work has been translated into Norwegian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Japanese.

Pinkston committed herself to her clinical research with the elderly, children, families served in state institutions, and community-based organizations, colleagues said. A variety of national and federal fellowships and grants supported her research on effectiveness of parent training, family care giving and the elderly, and child welfare practices with African American children, adolescents and families.

In addition to research and teaching, she advocated for children’s rights on committees for the Illinois’ DCFS, the American Civil Liberties Union Advisory Committee on the DCFS Family Court, and as a federal court monitor advisor in a case involving DCFS.

During her time at SSA, she was a devoted contributor to both student’s learning and the development of SSA’s curriculum. She also was an integral designer of SSA’s courses demonstrating the usefulness of behavioral procedures in clinical practice.

Pinkston retired from SSA in June 2002. The following year, her former students and colleagues, along with peer researchers and close friends, paid her tribute, hosting a national research symposium at UChicago.

Many of the products of that highly successful symposium were later published in an anthology edited by Harold E. Briggs and Rzepnicki, Using Evidence In Social Work Practice: Behavioral Perspectives (2004), published by Lyceum Books, and prepared for publication in a special section of the journal on Research on Social Work Practice.           

She was preceded in death by her husband, the distinguished psychologist and behavior analyst, Donald M. Baer. She leaves no immediate survivors. A memorial service is being planned.