Abstract: A Grounded Theory Study of Organizational Readiness for Change in Public Child Welfare: Developing a Theoretical Model (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

563P A Grounded Theory Study of Organizational Readiness for Change in Public Child Welfare: Developing a Theoretical Model

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Natallie Gentles-Gibbs, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME
Hyejin Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wright State University, Dayton, OH
Background and Purpose: The inter-related issues of readiness for change, systemic reform, and practice innovation in public child welfare have been discussed for several years. However, there has been little consensus on the approach to change within this area. Additionally, previous reform efforts have primarily been top-down or initiated by outside forces (e.g., federal legislation, class action lawsuits) although policy reform researchers have emphasized the importance of employees' perceptions in the successful change implementation. Therefore, this study intended to explore and better understand the perspectives of public child welfare caseworkers and supervisors on the system’s readiness for change by using a grounded theory approach.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 public child welfare workers (23 caseworkers and 7 supervisors) from three counties in a mid-Western state. Years of experience for caseworkers ranged from six months to 13 years while supervisors’ years of experience were between seven and 26 years. Interviews were conducted either face-to-face, or over the telephone, lasting an average of 40 minutes and audio recorded with permission. The participants discussed their perspectives on family empowerment, organizational culture, and readiness for change based on 27 questions. Initial contact was made with top-level administrators in ten counties, and two administrators agreed to present the study to their employees. Using a grounded theory approach, data were simultaneously gathered and analyzed. The initial analysis process began by transcribing the audio recordings and completing multiple readings. Each transcript was also uploaded into the NVivo software program for thematic qualitative analysis. Data analysis included an iterative process that involved memoing, theoretical sampling, and the application of the constant comparative method, followed by axial and selective coding.

Findings: Based on the 30 in-depth interviews, a theoretical model of organizational readiness of change was developed in child welfare settings. The theoretical model included factors within and outside of the organization. The factors within the organization consisted of individual (leadership, workers' attitudes toward change) and organizational factors (organizational values, capacity and practices, contextual conditions, strategies). The outside factors included factors at the macro level (courts, mandates). Particularly, findings suggest leadership is a significant contributing factor to organizational readiness for change. Leadership had an impact on workers' attitudes toward change, organizational values, and strategies as well as organizational readiness for change. Furthermore, organizational strategies such as using pilot programs and restructuring units were found as important as other factors.

Conclusion and Implications: In spite of the study limitations such as social desirability bias, this study contributes to the body of knowledge about organizational change and leadership and has implications for successfully implementing practice innovation and systemic reform. By using the grounded theory approach, this study grasped the caseworkers and supervisors' perspectives of organizational change efforts and integrated their ideas and opinions into the theoretical model. Cultivating transformational leadership in child welfare could be the key to successful practice innovation and systemic reform. The detailed description of the process could be the guidelines for future researchers who would use the grounded theory approach.