By William Harms
Photo courtesy of SSA

At the University of Chicago, I learned that questions are the most important things to have.”
—Richard Calica

Richard Calica, newly appointed director of the Department of Children and Family Services, credits the School of Social Service Administration for giving him the perspective he needs for his new job.

He comes to the job after leaving the Juvenile Protective Association as executive director.

Calica, AM’73, gained broad knowledge of the needs of children while at SSA, as well as an ability to look at issues from a variety of perspectives. “At the University of Chicago, I learned that questions are the most important things to have.”

Calica grew up in New York, for much of his life in a single-parent home after his father died. His mother, an immigrant with limited education, had been orphaned for part of her childhood.

After receiving an AB in psychology from Brooklyn College, he went to California to work in the state agency assigned to administer aid to families with dependent children. From there he worked with a child welfare unit and realized that trained social workers drew on a body of knowledge that was effective when working with children.

Inspired by that experience, he came to SSA to further study child welfare.

His first policy professor was Charles Shireman, who after World War II, helped establish the first juvenile probation system in West Germany.

“He was the first one who told me about social policy, and he was particularly interested in delinquency,” says Calica. “And I remember after he was talking about the plight of juvenile delinquency, he started to cry in class. He was both brilliant and passionate.”

In his 33 years as executive director of JPA, Calica encouraged staff to write about their experiences, publish in professional journals, and take part in a longitudinal study that has tracked the outcomes of children who were abused or neglected.

“I wanted us to do research, as well as care for children. But it’s not enough to publish, you also have to disseminate what you find,” he says. He has organized conferences to discuss the findings of research conducted at JPA, including one planned in March 2012 that will bring together key policy leaders to discuss how the research findings can be used to further protect children.

“Being able to figure out how to help folks is really what turns me on,” Calica says. “And the figuring out how to translate what I’ve learned into social policy is also an interesting problem because when you take society as your client, rather than an individual, then you come up with a whole different set of dynamics, which include the budgetary process, and decisions by the Supreme Court.”

Originally published on January 3, 2012.