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In Memoriam: June Brown, 88

June Brown, associate professor emerita at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and a longtime advocate for child welfare issues, died Sept. 11 in Culver City, California. She was 88 years old.

Brown joined the social work faculty in 1969 and served as chair of the Family and Children’s Services concentration, now called the Department of Children, Youth and Families. She helped develop a comprehensive curriculum based on a family practice model, which combined traditional child welfare methods for placement services with theories and methods for family-centered interventions. The model was a product of collaboration that resulted in two publications: “Child, Family, Neighborhood: A Master Plan for Social Service Delivery” (Child Welfare League of America, 1982) and “Family Practice: A Curriculum Plan for Social Services” (Child Welfare League of America, 1992). Brown taught in the school’s master and doctoral programs, and she rose to the position of assistant dean for academic affairs in 1987. She retired from USC in 1992.

“June Brown [was] one of the school’s most important senior faculty in the latter decades of the 20th century. I want to recognize immediately the strength of her presence and contribution to our students, our community and this university,” said Dean Marilyn Flynn. “She will be fondly remembered.”

Serendipitous start

Brown came into her social work career almost by chance and circumstance. As a young African-American girl growing up in Los Angeles, she had every intention of following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming a teacher. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of California, Los Angeles, however, she decided to jump straight into the work force rather than spend another year of study to obtain the required secondary teaching credential.

She began looking at a range of jobs, and one of the many things she did was take the civil service exam to become a caseworker for the LA County Department of Charities Bureau of Public Assistance. After passing the exam, she was hired by Frances Lomas Feldman in 1948 as a caseworker for the Belvedere District. (At the time, Feldman served as director of the district; she later joined the faculty at USC.) Belvedere carried the largest family caseload of all the districts and a significant segment of the clientele was Spanish speaking. She later transferred to the Metropolitan South District as a supervising caseworker.

In 1960, she decided to go back to school and entered the Master of Social Work program at USC. As a recipient of a U.S. Children’s Bureau grant, she chose to focus on casework/child welfare. After graduation, Brown held a variety of jobs, including assignments at the Belvedere District working for the Division of Child Welfare Services and the State Department of Social Welfare’s Child Welfare Services Bureau in Sacramento.

Brown later returned to USC to obtain her doctorate in social work in 1970 on a Children’s Bureau fellowship. Her dissertation, titled “Safeguarding Adoption in California 1870-1969: A Study in Public Policy Formulation,” proposed a redesign of child welfare services. Her research found that the field could better serve dependent children and their families if agencies were organized and prepared to offer family services and protective services; placement and out-of-home care; and adoptions as a continuum. Her proposal would allow applicants to be served according to assessed need rather than having the case plan determined by an agency’s only service. She would later testify before the LA County Board of Supervisors in 1984 to recommended that the county’s child welfare services be consolidated into a single department. That recommendation was adopted, and it led the way for the establishment of the county’s Department of Children’s Services that same year.

Teaching the next generation

Upon graduation, she and two other members of her doctoral class were invited to stay on as faculty at USC. This became her final career choice; she remained at USC for more than two decades, where she taught multiple cohorts of aspiring social workers and left a lasting impression on their professional and personal lives.

Former USC field instructor Nancy Jefferson Mance was one of those aspiring social workers. She maintained a close relationship with Brown for more than 30 years, so close in fact, that many people thought she was Brown’s daughter. In the past four years, she also served as one of Brown’s primary caregivers.

“June lived her life much as she taught her policy students. She was direct, knowledgeable, thorough in her research and expected others to be the same,” she said. “June advocated for social justice and for each person to be accountable and to make the best use of their lives. [An] adage she often shared was, ‘All children deserve the right to a happy childhood.’ Indeed, as one of the faculty members who developed the family and children concentration, her interest and advocacy was on behalf of children.”

Another of Brown’s students was Ron Avi Astor, the Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor of School Behavioral Health at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

“I had the honor of being by June’s side … a few hours before she died. She was crystal clear, alert, cogent and insightful in her discussion of our school, her love of her students [and] the impact made by faculty on those who are vulnerable. We read some poetry and discussed the existential meanings of why we do what we do as social workers,” he said. “She was a very special professor, and I’m glad our paths were intertwined.”

In addition to her ties with USC, Brown was a member of the Council on Social Work Education’s Black Task Force, a unit aimed at addressing the implications of diversity for the profession and social work education and making subsequent recommendations. During her years with CSWE, she wrote articles for the Black Task Force Reports on the subject of diversity from the black perspective. She also wrote articles and book reviews from a child welfare perspective.

A memorial in Brown’s honor will be held at Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90018 on Oct. 7 at 11 a.m. Repast to follow. All are welcome.