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Photo of Leathers, Sonya J.

Sonya J. Leathers, PhD



Building & Room:

ETMSW 4509


1040 West Harrison Street, Chicago, Illinois 60607

Office Phone:



Dr. Leathers has post-MSW experience including direct practice with children and adolescents placed in foster care and behavioral parent training.  She has also conducted agency staff training in evidence-based practices.

Professional Interests

Child Welfare Services and Evaluation
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Needs and Services
Effective Training in Evidence-based Practices

Teaching Experience

SocW 539 Mental health Issues with Children and Adolescents
Evidence-based Mental Health Practice for Children Workshop and Seminar Series
SocW 430 Practice I: Generalist Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups
SocW 431 Practice II: Generalist Practice with Task Groups, Organizations and Communities

Selected Publications

Leathers, S.J., Vande Voort, B. L., & Melka-Kaffer, C. (2021). Mental health services and psychotropic medications provided to children at risk for placement instability in foster care. Developmental Child Welfare, 3(3), 256–281.

Leathers, S.J., Spielfogel, J.E., Geiger, J., Barnett, J., Vande Voort, B.L. (2019). Placement Disruption in Foster Care: Children’s Behavior Problems, Foster Parent Support, and Parenting Experiences. Child Abuse and Neglect, 91, 147-159. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.03.012.

Leathers, S.J., Strand, T.C. (2018). Social work training in the use of evidence-based treatments for children: What works? Journal of Social Work Education. 57, S41-S55. doi: 10.1080/10437797.2018.1434444

McMeel, L.S., Leathers, S.J., and Strand, T.C. (2017). Evidence-based practices with children self-efficacy scale.  Journal of Social Work Education. 53(1), 3-17.

Spielfogel, J.S. & Leathers, S.J., & Christian, E. (2016). Agency culture and climate in child welfare: Do perceptions vary by exposure to the child welfare system? Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance. doi:10.1080/23303131.2016.1156041

Leathers, S.J., Spielfogel, J.E., Blakey, J., Christian, E., & Atkins, M.S. (2015). The effect of a change agent on use of evidence-based mental health practices in child welfare. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10488-015-0694-1.

Leathers, S.J. & Strand, T.C. (2013). Increasing access to evidence-based practices and knowledge and attitudes: A pilot study. Research on Social Work Practice, 23, 669-679.

Jantz, I., Rolock, N., Leathers, S.J., Dettlaff, A.J., & Gleeson, J.P. (2012). Substitute care entry: The relationship between race or ethnicity and levels of county organization. Child Abuse & Neglect, 36, 771-781.

Leathers, S.J., Spielfogel, J.E., Gleeson, J. & Rolock, N. (2012). Behavior problems, foster home integration, and evidence-based behavioral interventions: What predicts adoption of foster children? Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 891-899.

Blakey, J., Leathers, S.J., Lawler, M., Washington, T., Natschke. C., Strand, T., & Walton, Q. (2012). A review of how states are addressing placement stability. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 369-378.

Spielfogel, J.E., Leathers, S.J., Christian, E., McMeel, L. (2011). Parent management training, relationships with agency staff, and child mental health: Urban foster parents’ perspectives. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 2366-2374.

Leathers, S.J., Spielfogel, J.E., McMeel, L.S., & Atkins, M.S. (2011). Use of a parent management training intervention with urban foster parents: A pilot study. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 1270-1279.

Leathers, S.J., Falconnier, L., & Spielfogel, J.E. (2010). Predicting family reunification, adoption, and subsidized guardianship among adolescents in foster care. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80, 422–431.

Leathers, S.J. & Spielfogel, J.E. (2010). The potential benefits of inclusive practice with parents of children placed in out-of-home care. In T. LaLiberte & E. Snyder (Eds.), CW360, Spring 2010 (p. 26). Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, University of Minnesota.

Leathers, S.J., Atkins, M.S., Spielfogel, J.E., McMeel, L.S., Wesley, J.M., & Davis, R.  (2009). Context-specific mental health services for foster children. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 1289-1297.

Phillips, S.D., Leathers, S.J., & Erkanli, A. (2009). Children of probationers in the child welfare system. Child and Family Studies, 18, 183-191.

Leathers, S.J., McMeel, L., Prabhughate, A., & Atkins, M.S. (2009). Trends in child welfare’s focus on children’s mental health and mental health services from 1980-2004. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 445-450.

Atkins, M.S., Frazier, S.L., Leathers, S.J., Talbott, E., Graczyk, P.A., Jakobsons, L.J., Adil, J.A., Marinez-Lora, A., Bell, C.C., Gibbons, R.B., & Demirtas, H. (2008). Teacher key opinion leaders and the diffusion of innovation in urban low-income schools. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75, 905-908.

Leathers, S.J. & Testa, M.F. (2006). Foster youth emancipating from care: Caseworkers’ reports on needs and services. Child Welfare, 85, 463-498.

Leathers, S.J. (2006). Placement disruption and negative outcomes among adolescents in long-term foster care: The role of behavior problems. Child Abuse & Neglect, 30, 307-324.

Leathers, S.J. (2005). Separation from siblings: Associations with placement adaptation and outcomes among adolescents in long-term foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 27, 793-819.

Sullivan, M., Leathers, S.J., & Kelley, M.A. (2004). Family characteristics associated with duration of breastfeeding during early infancy among primiparas. Journal of Human Lactation, 20, 196-205.

Leathers, S.J. (2003). Parental visiting, conflicting allegiances, and emotional and behavioral problems among foster children. Family Relations: Journal of Applied Family & Child Studies, 52, 53-63.

Leathers, S.J. (2002). Foster children’s behavioral disturbance and detachment from caregivers and community institutions. Children and Youth Services Review, 24, 239-268.

Leathers, S.J. (2002). Parental visiting and family reunification: Could inclusive practice make a difference? Child Welfare, 81, 595-616.

Leathers, S.J. & Kelley, M.A. (2000). Unintended pregnancy and depressive symptoms among first-time mothers and fathers.  American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70, 523-531.

Leathers, S.J., Kelley, M.A., and Richman, J.A. (1997). Postpartum depression in new mothers and fathers: Parenting, work, and support. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 185, 129-139

Editorial Reviews

Children and Youth Services Review
Child Abuse and Neglect
Families in Society


BA, Wesleyan University
MA, University of Chicago
PhD, University of Chicago

Professional Memberships

Member, Society for Social Work Education
Member, Council on Social Work Education
California Evidence-based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare
Placement stabilization services consultation to private agencies and DCFS

Research Currently in Progress

Improving Service Delivery to Youth in the Child Welfare System: Adult Connections. Awarded to study the effects of an innovative mentoring, internship, and family connections program for 185 foster youth served by four private child welfare agencies in the Chicago area using a randomized controlled design. Funded by the Children’s Bureau; Children’s Home + Aid is the lead agency. Principal Investigator and evaluator.

Child Welfare Research Collaborative: Awarded to (1) study factors leading to stabilization of foster children at high risk of additional placement moves using interviews with 150 foster parents caring for children at high risk and subsequent monitoring of placement moves and (2) evaluate outcomes of team decision making clinical assessment procedure for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders at risk for movement into more restrictive care. Pre- post design involves data collection from caregivers, youth, and caseworkers. Funded by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Principal Investigator.

Permanency Innovations Initiative: Awarded to provide evaluation and implementation support to the Permanency Innovations Initiative (PII), a Children’s Bureau cooperative grant awarded to IL DCFS that seeks to increase permanency for children in long term foster care through statewide implementation of a trauma-focused intervention. Principal Investigator of subcontract.

Integrated Evidence-based Behavioral Health Care Social Work Training Program: A training grant awarded to develop and evaluate a program to increase the number of behavioral health social workers providing integrated evidence-based behavioral health services to children, adolescents, and transitional age youth in the Chicago area. Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Director and Principal Investigator.