UCLA Spotlight


Duncan Lindsey, SPPSR

  • By Marina Dundjerski, Reed Hutchinson
  • Published Nov 1, 2002 8:00 AM

As a young boy growing up in the '50s, Duncan Lindsey and his twin brother migrated back and forth from Miami in winter to the Adirondacks in summertime. "We had the best of both worlds," says Lindsey, social welfare professor and new chair of the Academic Senate.

But unlike tourists merely seeking more temperate climates, the boys were following their mother, a single parent who worked tirelessly waiting tables in resorts and hotels.

"At the time, my brother and I really hadn't a clue as to what she was doing," Lindsey says. "Now, I think it was amazing that she raised two kids on her own, which wasn't the easiest thing in the world."

As he grew older, Lindsey became increasingly intrigued by children's poverty and social welfare issues. Why did some public institutions seem to work across broad purposes while others were ineffective?

Today, those questions continue to shape his teaching, research and much of his spare time. In fact, his interest in helping poor kids become future Bruins extends to his work as senate chair. One of his goals is to ensure that "barriers aren't in place to prevent people from disadvantaged backgrounds from entering the university."

Said Lindsey: "I have a commitment to the field that's not strictly intellectual. We were poor kids; so for me, it's a sense of wanting to give back."

His passion is, he believes, "ingrained within," but it is also visible: On his desk, he keeps a brass sculpture of a mother bear (a Bruin, of course) tending to two cubs, which he teasingly calls, "Child Welfare at UCLA."

At home, rooms are cluttered with literature on child welfare and literacy - Lindsey's wife, Deborah, is a Panorama City elementary school teacher whose goal is to improve childhood literacy rates. Such reading materials also go along on family vacations. "I don't sectorize my life and say this is work - this is home," says Lindsey, who came to UCLA in 1994 after teaching at the University of Toronto.

The blurred lines are reflected in his No. 1 hobby: www.childwelfare.com, which he launched in 1995 to provide updates on what's happening in the child welfare field. He also started "Children and Youth Services Review," a well-respected journal. Lindsey has been called upon for his expertise by state agencies and charitable organizations alike.

In his own research, Lindsey found that, contrary to popular belief, child poverty levels have not dropped significantly since the welfare system was reformed in 1996. He found that while the number of child welfare recipients reportedly dropped by half, the number of children on food stamps remained roughly the same.

"In the United States, we've been very successful with public policies in terms of the elderly," Lindsey says, noting the development of the federal Social Security program in 1936. "I'm not sure we've had success with social programs for kids."