Research reveals that child welfare involved parents want “assertive, honest, clear, and urgent messages about what they should be doing to ensure their children's return” (Altman, 2009, p. 57). Workers, on the other hand, are often hesitant to actively engage parents who have not confessed responsibility and demonstrated compliance (Altman, 2009; Holland, 2000). Aligning parent needs for forthright engagement with worker behavior that responds to parents' expressed preferences could enhance the client/worker relationship.
The final paper in this symposium brings together data from worker surveys and parent interviews. Unfortunately, we were not able to link parent and worker data 1:1. However, we were able to compare workers who provide in-home services with those parents who received in-home services and workers who provide out-of-home services with parents who received such services. Thus, this study compares worker and parent perceptions by in-home and out-of-home status along four engagement dimensions to determine the similarities and differences between the groups.
Surveys administered to social workers (n=971, 96% response rate) participating in an evaluation of a parent engagement practice model measured their approaches to casework practice, their perceptions of obstacles to helping families, and their job satisfaction and perceptions of working conditions. Workers also assessed a family randomly-selected by the evaluators from their caseload.
Face-to-face interviews were conducted with the primary caregivers of families whose children were either in out-of-home care or who were receiving in-home supervision from the public child welfare agency. All parents who both were currently served by the child welfare system and had been clients between 60 and 180 days were eligible for the study (N=990). The response rate was 82 percent (n=810).
T-tests were conducted on four dimensions of engagement: strengths approach, involvement in case planning, trust, and cooperation, to measure level of agreement between parents and workers. Worker and parent responses were compared for those who had at least one out-of-home placement, those with in-home placements, and the overall state responses.
These findings indicate that workers perceive a higher level of engagement than parents (p <.001). Furthermore, workers and parents with children in-home perceive higher levels of engagement than workers and parents with children in out-of-home placements (p < .001). Finally, the difference in perceived engagement between workers and parents is consistent whether or not the child(ren) is in an in-home or out-of-home placement.
Conclusions and Implications
These findings suggest that on the whole workers report greater use of engagement strategies than parents perceive. Furthermore, those workers who provide in-home services and the parents who receive in-home services report higher levels of engagement than parents whose children are placed out-of-home and the workers who provide services to parents whose children are placed. Once a caregiver's children are placed out-of-home, the worker is less likely to utilize engagement strategies and this is consistent with the caregiver's experience.