Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)
Methods: This inquiry was primarily focused on identifying contributors and barriers to FGDM diffusion. The research was also informed by Michael Lipsky's (1980) theory of street-level bureaucracy, and thus, a secondary goal was to test this theory's applicability to FGDM diffusion. Qualitative data were drawn from a broad and comprehensive set of sources, including: semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders associated with FGDM diffusion; documentation of local and state FGDM policies; practice manuals and guidelines; legislative histories of select state and federal child welfare statutes; and, scholarly reviews of FGDM best-practices and outcomes.
Findings: Two significant findings emerge from the study. First, FGDM gained popularity at approximately the same time that Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). This act established a legal framework for moving child welfare social work away from supporting families and toward protecting children and quickly securing their permanent placements. That FGDM took root within a hostile policy environment reveals the power of front-line social workers and similar street-level bureaucrats – through the exercise of professional discretion – to influence the implementation of national child welfare policy. In other words, the study shows that child welfare workers using FGDM implemented a de facto family support policy that differs from, and arguably, subverts the child safety policy of ASFA. Second, as is typical of street-level policies, the implementation of FGDM varies across the U.S. The study shows that one important consequence of this variation has been a drift away from the New Zealand model, the acknowledged “gold standard” for practice (Adams and Chandler 2004).
Implications: The findings raise notable questions about the uniformity (and equity) of FGDM implementation in the U.S., the dilution of the New Zealand best-practice model, and possible disjunctures between FGDM and federal law. Equally important, the study underscores the fact that as front-line social workers add to their practice repertoires, they also act as policy agents who actively shape the macro-level context within which they work. Therefore, just as workers carefully attend to their individual clients when utilizing FGDM, they must also ensure that the intervention's use is governed by a set of coherent policy guidelines and that these guidelines harmonize with larger state and federal imperatives.