Professor Emeritus David Fanshel, World Expert on Foster Care, Dies

David Fanshel

Dr. David Fanshel, who was a professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work from 1962 until his retirement in 1993, passed away on December 15, 2012. Professor Emeritus Fanshel received his doctorate of social work from the School and dedicated his career to teaching and mentoring—particularly doctoral—students interested in mastering research, many of whom went on to do stellar work themselves.

Dr. Fanshel's work in foster care is internationally known. He was the author of numerous publications, including eleven books, including a major longitudinal research study on foster care in the U.S. He was a pioneer in the field of permanency planning for children, transracial adoption, and rigorous inquiries into how children were impacted by parental visitation.

Dr. Fanshel played a significant role in developing methods for organizing information about children in the foster care system, using what was then early computer technology for tracking purposes. He consulted with many government and international organizations on issues related to children being placed in out-of-home settings.

A WWII veteran and the first in his family to receive a college degree, Dr. Fanshel testified before the U.S. Senate to advocate for increased opportunities for parental visitation of children in foster care as his longitudinal research demonstrated that children fared better if they were visited while in care—something that was not well recognized at that time. His work helped to bring about major legislative changes for children in out-of-home care.

A versatile scholar, Dr. Fanshel also did substantial work at the intersection of clinical social work practice and linguistics, publishing two books and numerous articles on this topic. A highly acclaimed researcher, but one who refused to be seen as an "ivory tower academic," Dr. Fanshel had enormous respect and appreciation for those who delivered services in clinical practices on the ground.

Dr. Fanshel was named an NASW Social Work Pioneer; received the Secretary's Commemorative Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services upon the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Children's Bureau for his significant contribution to promoting the well-being, growth, and development of children in our nation (June 1987); and received the Society for Social Work and Research's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

"We join his family in celebrating his life and the significant difference he made in our nation," said Dean Jeanette Takamura. "The Columbia community extends its condolences to his children and grandchildren and acknowledges his 31 years of association with the School with great pride and gratitude."