The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Who's On-Board? A Study of Child Welfare Worker Reports of Need for an Organizational Change

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 8:30 AM
Marina 6 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Julie S. McCrae, PhD, Senior Research Associate, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Robin Leake, PhD, Research Manager, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Maria Scannapieco, PhD, Professor and Director, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Cathryn C. Potter, PhD, Professor, Associate Provost for Research, Executive Director, Butler Institute for Families, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background and Purpose. Organizational and practice changes in social service organizations are thought to be more likely when the potential “adopters” believe that the change is necessary, important, beneficial and worthwhile (Bouckenooghe, 2010; Weiner, 2009). In child welfare (CW), changes are common due to new initiatives, goals, political influence, and resources. Leaders need to assess whether workers believe in the need for a particular change and target implementation strategies accordingly. This study uses data from 568 CW workers to assess levels of need for a new statewide initiative. Study questions are: (1) what is the level of perceived need? (2) is perceived need constant across the agency?, and (3) to what degree is fit with the agencies’ mission related to perceived need?   

Methods. CW staff in 13 local agencies completed an online survey (58% of 964 sent). Most respondents are White (77%), caseworkers (70%), and work in ongoing units (35%). Four project-developed items were summed to create a scale of perceived need. A 5-point Likert agreement scale indicated respondent beliefs that the agency (1) needs the initiative, and that current practices are: (2) consistent, (3) value-driven, and (4) evidence-based (key goals of the initiative). Items were re-scaled with higher scores indicating greater perceived need. The scale shows adequate reliability (α =.76).  The Organizational Readiness to Change, Mission subscale (ORC; Lehman et al., 2002) was used to assess clarity of agency mission. Descriptive, bivariate (t-tests), and multivariate regression analyses were used.

Results. One-half of workers agree or strongly agree that the initiative is needed (51%). Less than one-quarter feel current practices are consistent (24%), while 60% (each) believe practices are value-driven and evidence-based. Bivariate analyses showed higher perceived need among tenured, compared with less-tenured, workers (p<.001). White, non-Hispanic workers expressed more need compared with Hispanic workers (p<.05), as did leadership and state staff compared with others. Intake staff reported less need compared with permanency and “other” staff (p<.05 for both). Multivariate analyses showed that need increased by .44 among leadership and state staff  (p<.001); need increased with greater tenure (p<.05). Most individuals believe their own work clearly relates to agency mission (87% agree) while others lack clarity (48%).

Conclusions and Implications. Results show that workers vary in the level of need that they attribute to the current initiative. To obtain buy-in across the agency, leaders need to anticipate variability in worker-buy-in. Using strategies such as identifiying champions at all levels of the agency and including staff at all levels in decision-making about the specific changes that will affect them is recommended. Child welfare leaders and managers should be knowledgable about theories of change management and the likelihood of model adoption, such as Kegan and Lahey (2009).