Kess Ballentine

Kess Ballentine

Assistant Professor

Expert in low-paid labor conditions and work-family strain

 5447 Woodward, Rm 055

 By appointment

Kess Ballentine


Kess Ballentine, MA, MSW, PhD serves as an Assistant Professor of Social Work. She is a research affiliate of the Detroit Partnership for Education Equity & Research and a co-investigator for the Pittsburgh Wage Study. She is an Early Career Fellow of the Work and Family Researchers Network.

Ballentine’s research and practice are inspired by her former work in research and community. Prior to earning her doctorate, she worked as an elementary special educator, as well as on an NIMH-funded study of group home care for children with mental health and behavioral disorders. She has also worked as a domestic violence advocate and a community program developer. Through her practice, she has gained insight into the fields of education, mental health, and child welfare and is now applying this knowledge as an engaged researcher to help improve family and child well-being among lower-income families.

Ballentine researches how institutional policy and practice affects individual and family outcomes. Her overarching research goal is to develop a holistic framework of how working people navigate workplaces, child-serving institutions, home life, and social forces across the community. She uses a variety of research methods and a critical theoretical framework. Her research informs policy and practice to pursue social justice for people experiencing systemic oppression. Her current work examines mechanisms of institutional discrimination experienced by low-paid workers and understanding the effects of wage increases on low-paid workers. She is beginning a new line of research inquiry exploring how work- and school-based policies intersect to affect parental school engagement. She has presented her work at national and international conferences and published in Health Affairs and Families in Society.

Ballentine is passionate about community impact and teaching, earning Teacher of the Year in 2022. She uses her research and practice skills to contribute to the labor movement and other advocacy efforts working to improve individual family well-being. She is committed to expanding diversity in social work practice and leadership through teaching and supporting historically and systematically excluded students. To this end, she works toward universal classroom design and builds inclusive and engaged classroom communities to optimize learning using restorative and cooperative learning practices. She invests time in collaborative mentorship and advocacy with graduate students, alumni, community members, and colleagues. She serves on the advisory board for the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program and is the faculty advisor for Rad Social Workers. In her free time, Ballentine enjoys DIY projects, quilting, and spending time with her husband, cats, and rabbits.

Curriculum Vitae

Google Scholar



Teaching Interests

  • Human Rights & Social Justice
  • Social Welfare Policy
  • Social Work & Social Welfare History
  • Qualitative Research

Areas of Expertise


  • Parents of young children
  • Lower income workers
  • Elementary-age youth
  • Children and adults with disabilities


  • Qualitative analysis & interviewing
  • Longitudinal research design, data collection and analysis
  • Mixed methods research


  • Poverty, inequality, and social policy
  • Parenting & parent engagement in social systems
  • Work-family strain
  • Labor
  • Feminist Theory & Feminist Social Work
  • Power & Oppression

Courses taught by Kess Ballentine

Fall Term 2024 (future)

Winter Term 2024 (current)

Winter Term 2023

Fall Term 2022

Winter Term 2022

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