In child welfare good practice changes lives and the choices, we make about building a model and framework for child welfare supervision and how to evaluate our practices or how to apply evaluation findings that can affect children and families across the country.
For decades child welfare professionals have been trying creative ways to engage Children and Families to accurately assess their needs and to offer the support and services they need most.
Unfortunately far too many of these innovative pilot programs and promising initiatives are spread prematurely before we have much information about;
Whether they work?
How do they work?
For whom as a result our research and evaluation evidence is limited in many areas and when leaders like you are called upon to make important decisions.
The factors may have a greater influence on which policies and practices get implemented?
What services children and families ultimately receive?
What makes developing and spreading effective practice?
How can we better use evaluation to strengthen child welfare practice?
Sometimes despite our best efforts and intentions, we’re faced with tough choices and competing priorities that cause us to miss opportunities to evaluate to partner to learn and to make more informed decisions.
Our agency is accountable to the public and to the children and families we serve for achieving results.
We rely heavily on evaluation to help us improve outcomes and to justify funding those services that are working while we’d like for all of our decisions to be guided by findings from well-designed program evaluations.
We know it’s not always that easy mandates budgets time politics public opinion they can all come into play and when asked to allocate limited funds.
It can be difficult to choose between competing needs like supporting an important evaluation study or purchasing additional services for an underserved community or reducing worker caseloads.
I’m not always sure how best to serve our children and families.
It’s not easy we also know that. Sometimes funders have a rigorous evaluation and research institutions have aspirations and incentives to perform scientific studies that are hard to align with current practices in the field working with you to weigh the potential costs and benefits of a particular evaluation approach for your agency and community in the short-term.
While also considering how your evaluation could inform and impact services for the field of child welfare, in the long run, it is challenging and even when we do successfully partner to complete an important evaluation study.
We often struggle to communicate results in ways that are meaningful to professionals in your agency and that can be applied.
That’s why for all of these reasons.
It’s so important that we make our evaluations count fortunately we’re getting better at this with practice and it begins with a willingness to be open to collaborate and to build trust.
That doesn’t mean we’ll always agree but we believe that our children and families deserve the best we can offer.
In the future limited resources get invested in programs and services that will have the greatest chance of success forging strong partnerships between administrators evaluators and funders is essential and acknowledging that we all have more to learn is a great place to start while dollars have been invested in child welfare evaluations.
We still have limited information about what works and what doesn’t and there are still a lot we can do to improve by testing our programs and services designing better evaluations and disseminating the evaluation findings of successful programs more widely.
This would be far more daunting if we didn’t know what we can do about making such improvements but we do this is the framework for safety in child welfare to design test spread and sustain effective child welfare practice that looks a little intimidating.
I feel like we should be wearing lab coats.
Don’t worry this isn’t nuclear physics but the framework for child welfare is ground science.
It’s simple straightforward and smart it can serve as a guide for partners like us to better use evaluation to benefit our child welfare frameworks, systems, and communities and it can contribute to the evidence base in child welfare.
In other fields, a framework for quality assurance in child welfare borrows from other research to practice frameworks and was designed by a workgroup of national experts specifically for application to child welfare policy and practice.
Two Steps to Build a Model and Framework for Child Welfare:
The child welfare framework presents a series of deliberate and sequential steps that build on one another that can be applied in two ways;
- First, each step in the framework describes the developmental stage that a new policy or program goes through often over several years from being a promising idea to becoming recognized nationally as an evidence-supported intervention to eventually becoming integrated into everyday practice across multiple systems. Imagine how a new parent training model might be designed piloted and then tested in one community and if proven effective after rigorous evaluation in more communities eventually becomes an accepted and routine part of maltreatment prevention services across the country to accomplish this the parenting program would go through each of the stages in the framework.
- Second, these same steps can also serve as a practical how-to guide to help child welfare decision-makers and evaluators move through the systematic processes of identifying and exploring a problem developing and testing a solution rigorously evaluating the intervention adapting and spreading policies and practices that have been demonstrated to work and continuously monitoring and improving them over time.
A framework for quality assurance in child welfare challenges us to do what we can give our many pressures and priorities to make incremental contributions to the knowledge base and to make evaluations relevant to practical needs and at the heart of the framework is evidence-based practice.
This is the whole point we’re committed to the goal of implementing child welfare policies and providing services that are based on the best available research evidence that take full advantage of the expertise of highly skilled child welfare professionals and that to respond to the unique characteristics culture and preferences of the children and families we serve.
That’s what we mean by evidence-based practice and what the framework for safety in child welfare is intended to help us achieve and this framework for safety is designed to empower us to make good decisions about practice and programs that work to use evaluation as a tool to support better decision-making and to encourage us to actively contribute to building evidence for the whole field of child welfare we’re learning that our agency can raise the bar that we can expect more from the dollars we do invest in evaluation and that our decisions about evaluation have implications for other agencies and other communities.