While limited resources for applied research is one issue, other barriers exist. Workers often perceive evidence-based programs to be overly prescriptive and not suitable for diverse client groups in real world settings. Further, child welfare leadership and front-line workers express entrenched ethical concerns when the stakes for children and families, who are typically among our nation’s most vulnerable, are so high. On the other hand, when they have the opportunity, resources, and willingness, however, service providers and child welfare agency leaders are often eager to find the resources to implement programs with the promise of being more effective, and even with minimal evidence, are reluctant to deny these potential benefits to families, making it challenging to develop a sufficiently robust base of evidence.
This panel addresses these challenges and how they were overcome by highlighting three examples of large-scale evaluations that recently and successfully conducted randomized controlled trials with different child welfare populations. The panel presents the study designs and results of the three studies, which include: (a) a federally-funded evaluation of Family Group Decision Making in two states, (b) a statewide evaluation of a promising parenting education program, the Nurturing Parenting Program, funded by a federal demonstration project for child finance reform, and (c) an evaluation of Youth Villages Transitional Living services in one state funded by private foundations. All three evaluations use random assignment in order to assess program impact on child welfare outcomes.
In addition to the value the study findings may have for the spread and use of effective practices, this panel highlights the feasibility of randomized controlled trials and solutions to the obstacles faced when implementing this study design.