NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Claudia J. Coulton
Claudia J. Coulton

Pioneering Contributions

Claudia Coulton’s, PhD, MSW, groundbreaking conceptual scholarship and research has resulted in three distinctly innovative and forward moving contributions that will be highlighted here: 1) In the late 1970s she authored NASW’s first definitive conceptual and practical blueprint for medical social work quality assurance, a book widely used to guide what were becoming increasingly important demands for accountability. 2) In the 1980s she worked with the Society for Hospital Social Work Administrators to develop HSWIS – a minimum data set for hospital social work. Its code-based data elements, most importantly its psychosocial problem codes, provided a template for bringing social work contributions into the increasingly code/data driven quality assurance/improvement efforts of health care systems. The HSWIS elements were widely adapted for use in many health care settings other than hospitals where social workers needed to be recognized in quality improvement systems. 3) In the 1980s she began what continues to be a unique social work research enterprise focused on community level analysis of social problems and their amelioration.

She is the founding Director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western University. Under her leadership, the Center has built a model capacity to provide data for community initiatives and research, including a dynamic neighborhood indicators portal (NEO CANDO), a parcel-based collaborative action platform (NST) and a longitudinal multi-agency record linkage system (CHILD). Coulton is a founder of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership and has served as research adviser to many community change programs including Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives, Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections program and the Invest in Children initiative. Here is how one colleague describes the impact of her neighborhood work:

"While I could note a string of outstanding contributions she has made to the literature of social change as well, I will focus on one element of her work: the development and ongoing operation of a system of information about Cleveland’s neighborhoods. The system – NEOCANDO – has been used to effectively address many problems locally, but its impact nationally has been a watershed. Since the early 1990s, many cities around the country (36 now in NNIP alone) have developed neighborhood information systems, much enhancing the quality of local decisions. But NEOCANDO was the first, and all the others are in one way or another modeled after it. In addition to building and aggressively improving the model over time, her writings and other work with NNIP have been fundamental in spreading and advancing this practice more broadly. Major national institutions (e.g., the Federal Reserve system, the National League of Cities) have recognized the importance of these systems in advancing data-driven decision making at the local level. Claudia Coulton deserves the recognition she is now achieving nationally as the founder of this field."

                  — G. Thomas Kingsley, Senior Fellow, The Urban Institute, Washington, D.C.

Career Highlights

Coulton is Distinguished University Professor and the Lillian F. Harris Professor of Urban Social Research at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University. She began her academic career there in 1978 and has served as Doctoral Program Chair and Associate Dean for Research. She has been a visiting scholar and lecturer at Hebrew University (2010), The Urban Institute (2008); and Stockholm University (1985). 

She has done evaluation research for many Cleveland government and non-government agencies, with contracts and grants both large and small, reflecting her commitment to addressing poverty and strengthening neighborhoods in her home city. She also has received major funding from national organizations including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. In all, her Curriculum Vitae lists as “selected” 47 grants and contracts from local, state, national public and private funders.

Coulton has served on the editorial boards of Social Service Review, Social Work Research, and the Encyclopedia of Social Work, and was a member of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Task Force on Social Work Research. Coulton currently co-leads Harness Technology for Social Good, Grand Challenges for Social Work and is a Board Member of the International Society for Children’s Indicators. Her quality as a teacher was recognized with a sizeable cash award, the John Diekhoff Award for Distinguished Graduate Teaching, in 1989. Many other awards and honors are listed below.

Biographical Data

Claudia Coulton earned her BA in Sociology from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1969 and worked at Columbus State Hospital for two years before entering the MSW program at The Ohio State University. After graduating in 1972, she worked as a medical social worker at Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. She received her PhD in Social Welfare in 1978 from Case Western Reserve University. 

Significant Achievements and Awards

  • Distinguished Achievement Citation, Ohio Wesleyan University Alumni Association, 2014
  • Appointed Distinguished University Professor, Case Western Reserve University, 2012
  • Fellow, American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, 2010
  • Mather Spotlight Prize for Excellence in Research, Case Western Reserve University, 2010
  • Aaron Rosen Endowed Lecturer, Society for Social Work and Research, 2004
  • Presidential Award for Excellence in Social Work Research, NASW, 1993

Significant Publications

Coulton has more than150 publications. A selected few include the following:

  • Coulton, C.J. (1979). Social Work Quality Assurance Progams: A Comparative Analysis. New York: National Association of Social Workers.
  • Coulton, C.J. & Rosenberg, M. (1981). Social justice and rationing social services. Sociology and Social Welfare, 8, 415-431.
  • Coulton, C.J., & Butler, N. (1981). Measuring social work productivity in health care. Health and Social Work, 6, 4-12.
  • Coulton, C.J. (1984). Confronting prospective payment: Requirements for an information system. Health and Social Work, 9, 13-24.
  • Coulton, C.J., Korbin, J., Su, M., & Chow, J. (1995). Community level factors and child maltreatment rates. Child Development, 66, 1262-1276.
  • Coulton, C.J. (2003) Metropolitan inequalities and the ecology of work: Implications for welfare reform. Social Service Review, 77, 159-190. [Won the Bruel Memorial Prize, awarded annually for the best article in the journal.]
  • Kingsley, G.T., Coulton, C.J., & Pettit, K. (2014) Strengthening Communities with Neighborhood Data, Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
  • Coulton, C.J., Richter, F.C.G., Kim, S.J., Cho, Y. & Fischer, R. (2016). Temporal effects of distressed housing on early childhood risk factors and kindergarten readiness. Children and Youth Services Review, 68, 59-72.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.