Abstract: Rolling Out Reform: Enhancing Supports and Minimizing Barriers to Change Child Welfare (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12434 Rolling Out Reform: Enhancing Supports and Minimizing Barriers to Change Child Welfare

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 8:30 AM
Garden Room B (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Gail Folaron, PhD , Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis, Professor, Indianapolis, IN
Sabrina Sullenberger, PhD , Indiana University, Associate Professor, Spencer, IN
Janell Horton, MSW , Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis, Doctoral Student, Indianapolis, IN
Child welfare agencies across the country are reforming their systems using a model of family/community engagement first implemented in Alabama (Bazelon, 1998). The model itself has never been evaluated as evidenced by the lack of empirical studies on the website of the consultants (http://www.childwelfaregroup.org/resources.html). Additionally, aside from one dissertation (Cahn, 2003), “there is virtually no empirical evidence about how child welfare agency management affects children's outcomes over time.” (Wells, 1006, also Courtney, 2000). This study addresses these concerns.

The 4 objectives of our project included a study of worker fidelity to the new practice model, supports and barriers to fidelity, community perceptions, and case outcomes. The research question of this paper is, “What are the supports and barriers that impact worker fidelity to a new and evolving model of practice?

Our method was consistent with rigorous qualitative research. We conducted in-depth interviews, triangulated data collection using multiple methods and sources, and had a long term (+2 years) engagement in the field. We developed both observation and interview guides to gather data from parents, children, caseworkers, and service providers. Observations lasted 1-3 hours; interviews lasted 1-2 hours. By the study's end we had completed 46 observations and 104 interviews. The sampling included 11 rural and urban counties and new and experienced workers of mixed ages and ethnic diversity. Case outcomes were compared with 11 matched counties.

Our original hypothesis was that barriers and supports to worker fidelity could be identified upfront and categorically studied. To this end, we hosted focus groups and interviewed agency employees to generate a potential list of supports and barriers. We arrived at 40 items ranging from infrastructure concerns to personal fit and community impact including the courts.

Multiple approaches were used to analyze data including a constant comparison method which resulted in unexpected discoveries. Examining best and worst practice, we found critical gaps in infrastructure support which impacted outcomes to child safety, permanence and well being. In addition, it became apparent that workers didn't understand the foundational theories guiding the practice reform. This was a barrier because workers were engaging with clients as technicians rather than professionals.

Conclusions and Implications: The state tried to rollout the reform in record time to hedge against a changing political climate. They made mistakes and had to backtrack. As additional states adopt this model they need to consider infrastructure support and the nature of the rollout to avoid several barriers to good practice.

This presentation will include implications for practice, policy, and research based on lessons learned inside the reform and the research. Attention to transfer of learning, the impact of infrastructure supports, and the timing and order of a reform rollout can help other states avoid problems. Policy implications include a need to attend to safety, permanency and well being through long range (rather than short range) planning and the development of a strong informal support network. Implications for research include the value of action research for bringing about immediate and targeted change.