porterfield photoAssociate Professor
202 Bellerive Hall
Telephone: 314-516-4617
Fax: 314-516-6416

Faculty Video Interview

Shirley L. Porterfield joined the School of Social Work at the University of Missouri-St. Louis as an associate professor in the Fall of 2003. She is also a research affiliate in Washington University’s Center for Social Development and a member of the board of directors of the Missouri Budget Project (a nonprofit policy research organization). Dr. Porterfield received her Ph.D. in Agricultural and Applied Economics, with an emphasis in Community Economic Development from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1988. She previously held positions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, the Rural Policy Research Institute, and Washington University.

Dr. Porterfield's professional interests lie in the areas of social policy, child disability policy, and issues facing low-income families. Her recent papers and presentations examine children with special health care needs, particularly the characteristics, work choices, assets and income of their families, as well as access of these children to health services. Other recent research projects include an analysis of teen time use and a primary data study of matched savings accounts for elementary school children. Her articles on these and other topics can be found in journals such as the American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Children and Youth Services Review, and Monthly Labor Review. She has actively participated as both PI and co-PI on grant research funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Council on Economic Education.

Dr. Porterfield teaches undergraduate Research Methods in addition to graduate-level courses in Program Evaluation and Health Care Policy. In 2001, she received the Excellence in Ph.D. Mentoring Award from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work and in 2003, the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award from the Graduate Student Senate, both at Washington University in St. Louis.

Research Interests:

  • Children with Special Health Care Needs
  • Health Policy
  • Assets
  • Poverty
  • Work-Family Issues

Teaching Interests:

  • Research Methods
  • Health Policy
  • Social Policy


  • Ph.D., University of Wisconsin - Madison, 1988
  • MS, University of Arizona, 1984
  • BS, Oregon State University, 1982

Recent Publications

DeRigne, L. and S.L. Porterfield.  2010.  Employment change and the role of the medical home for married and single-mother families with children with special health care needs.  Social Science and Medicine 70:  631-641.

Abstract:  One in five U.S. households with children has at least one child with a special health care need (USDHHS, 2004). Like most parents, those with children with special health care needs struggle to balance childrearing responsibilities with employment demands. This research examines factors affecting married parents’ and single-mother’s employment change decisions focusing specifically on whether having a medical home influences these decisions. This study includes 38,569 children with special health care needs from birth through age 17 surveyed in the 2005–2006 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs. The employment model is estimated using multinomial logistic regression with the choice of a parent to maintain their current level of employment, reduce work hours, or stop working as the dependent variable. Independent variables are those characterizing the needs of the child, the resources of the family, and the socio-demographic characteristics of the family. Components of the medical home variable include: 1) having a usual source of care; 2) care provided is ‘‘family centered’’; 3) receipt of care coordination services; and 4) receipt of needed referrals. Half of the children in our sample met criteria in all four facets. If the child has a medical home, the relative risk of a parent choosing to cut hours rather than not change hours decreases by 51%. The relative risk of choosing to stop working rather than not change hours decreases by an estimated 64%. Care coordination services significantly reduce the odds of changing employment status. Our results suggest that the medical home is a moderating factor in parental decisions concerning change in employment status.


Sanders, C. and S.L. Porterfield.  2010.  The ‘Ownership Society’ and Women: Exploring the Ability of Women with Children to Accumulate Assets in America. Journal of Family and Economic Issues 31 (1): 90-106.

Abstract:  Wealth indicators have not been widely examined in studies of women’s economic well-being and little attention has been paid to assets within female-headed households, specifically. Using SIPP data this study examined factors associated with asset accumulation of female householders. Differences between households with and without children and with and without other adults present in the household were emphasized. Findings indicated the presence of children consistently reduced the likelihood of owning assets but had little impact on equity values when women owned assets. The effect of multiple adults within the household varied depending on the asset held.

DeRigne, L., S.L. Porterfield, and S. Metz.  2009.  The Influence of Health Insurance on Parent Reported Unmet Mental Health Needs of Children.  Maternal and Child Health Journal, 13 (2): 176-186.

Abstract:  Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence of unmet mental health needs in children identified by parents as having long-term emotional and behavioral problems, to identify the characteristics of these children, and to evaluate the influence of health insurance status and type on the odds of reporting unmet mental health needs. Methods: We used the National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs (NSCSHCN) to estimate the prevalence of unmet mental health needs among children with long-term emotional/behavioral conditions. Using logistic regression models, we also assessed the independent impact of insurance status and type on unmet needs. Results: Analyses indicated that of the nearly 67% of children who needed mental health care or counseling in the previous 12 months, 20% did not receive it. Moreover, parents of uninsured children were more likely to report unmet mental health needs than insured children. Parents of children covered by public health insurance programs (Medicaid, Children Health Insurance Program-CHIP, Title V, Military, Native American) were less likely to report unmet mental health needs than those with children covered by private health insurance plans. Conclusion: Results from this study suggest a need for expansion of health insurance coverage to children especially those with long-term mental health conditions.  It also suggests a need for parity between mental and physical health benefits in private health insurance.

Porterfield, S.L. and A.E. Winkler.  Teen Time Use and Differences by Parental Education:  Evidence from the ATUS, CPS, and MTF.  Monthly Labor Review, 130 (5): 37-56, 2007.   

Abstract:  This paper draws on three data sets to analyze teen time. Differences by parental education are analyzed, given growing evidence of the importance of educational attainment as a “dividing line” for economic success.  Among the findings, while teen employment rates declined for all teens, rates fell precipitously for teens with more highly-educated parents. In lieu of employment, evidence indicates that these teens are spending somewhat more time in volunteer activities, but no more time in homework.  



  • SW 6400 - Practice and Program Evaluation
  • SW 6443 - Health Care Policy
  • SW 6800 - Graduate Field Practicum II