TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Two University of Alabama alumni who have combined more than 70 years advocating for Alabama’s children have been inducted into the Alabama Social Work Hall of Fame.
Debbi Austin Land, former director of the Clay House, a children’s advocacy center in Bessemer, and Paul Vincent, founder and former director of the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, were honored as the 2019 inductees Friday at the Hotel Capstone on UA’s campus.
The Alabama Social Work Hall of Fame was founded by the school’s Social Work Society to honor the outstanding accomplishments of some of the state’s most distinguished leaders in the field of social work. Each year, the UA School of Social Work hosts a luncheon to celebrate honorees’ achievements and welcome a new class of inductees.
Debbi Austin Land
Land spent 21 years in full-time social work practice before retiring in 2015. She is recognized as a leader in advocacy for Alabama’s abused and neglected children, serving as the director of the Bessemer Area Cutoff Children’s Advocacy Center, also known as the Clay House. She also served as clinical director of the Prescott House Child Advocacy Center in Bessemer.
Land also served as coordinator of Jefferson County’s child death review team and as a forensic interview training assistant for the National Child Advocacy Center in Huntsville.
“I interviewed over 3,000 children during my career, and all were a part of my heart,” Land said.
Land graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1971 and earned her bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State University in 1974. She received her master’s in social work degree from UA in 1993.
She credited former School of Social Work faculty, particularly Dr. Greogry Skibinski, for helping steer her career toward child advocacy.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do [in social work] until graduate school – I’d never heard of a child advocacy center,” Land said. “I’m very appreciative of the faculty at UA and the doors they opened for me and other students.”
Internships at child advocacy centers in the 1990s were scarce, Land said, so she worked continually to provide student internships at both Prescott House and Clay House.
Vincent’s career in social work spans more than 50 years. He founded the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group in 1996 and led the organization for 23 years. The CWG’s mission is to improve outcomes for children and their families by designing and implementing successful system change and improving front line practice.
Prior to the creation of the CWG, Vincent, a Montgomery native, was the director of the Alabama child welfare system, serving from 1989 to 1996. During that period, Alabama emerged as a national leader in demonstrating improved outcomes. The National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators awarded Vincent the Excellence in Child Welfare Administration Award in 1994.
“My time as child welfare director was during a period of class action litigation and was a remarkable opportunity to change a system and learn from a lot of people,” he said. “It was great to see the results – that whole team of people influenced the rest of my work.”
Vincent considers himself “semi retired”; he has served on several advisory and court monitoring panels for child welfare cases in Los Angeles and South Carolina.
Vincent earned his bachelor’s degree from Huntingdon College in 1969 and his MSW degree from UA in 1972.