Abstract: Biases in Practice: How Caseworkers' Perceptions of Caregivers Affect Engagement with the Positive Parenting Program (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Biases in Practice: How Caseworkers' Perceptions of Caregivers Affect Engagement with the Positive Parenting Program

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Alexi Chacon, BA, Undergraduate Researcher, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Antonio Garcia, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background and Purpose: To achieve safety, permanency, and well-being, child welfare leaders in one large Mid-Atlantic city received funding to implement the Positive Parenting Program (TripleP). Although research has identified the role that caseworkers’ biases play in their characterizations of caregivers (Arroyo & Peek, 2015), less is known about how those biases affect engagement with evidence-based parenting interventions (EBPI), such as TripleP. To that end these questions were addressed: (1) examine how caseworkers’ biases towards caregivers and their perceptions of the helping alliance influenced their intent or motivation to make referrals to TripleP during the implementation process, and (2) illuminate the contextual and organizational conditions that influenced these relationships. 

Methods: Participants (n=12) were caseworkers and support staff at two CW agencies who had the opportunity to refer caregivers to an EBPI, TripleP. Over 70% of the sample identified as female (n=16) and African American (n=16), and ranged in age from 23-49 years (µ=33). A semi-structured interview protocol was used as part of a larger study to elicit their experiences of engaging in the implementation process. Interviews were audio recorded and were transcribed using a directed content analyses approach to examine the presence, causes, and influence of caseworker biases.  

Results: Findings showed that caseworkers work in a resource constrained environment that prevents them from engaging caregivers in TripleP (theme one). The constraint on resources, including large caseloads and bureaucratic inefficiencies, created a work culture where caseworkers view clients “as a number” rather than gaining a nuanced approach to connecting clients with applicable evidence-based interventions. To contend with the constraints of resources, caseworkers often resorted to behaviors or thoughts that are grounded in biases against parents (theme 2). Such characterizations included parents being unable to “comprehend the common-sense things of life” and lured easily by “little bit material gimmicks.”  At the same time, caseworkers overlooked the role that systemic barriers related to poverty, such as housing and food insecurity, played in preventing engagement with TripleP.

The perpetuation of these negative biases threatened the development of engaging relationships between caseworkers and caregivers. In turn, caseworkers’ ability to gather knowledge and insight about TripleP and refer caregivers to the EBPI was hindered. (theme 3). Caseworkers had neither the time to learn about TripleP, nor the trust of caregivers needed to try this new EBPI.

Conclusions and Implications: Lowering the caseloads of caseworkers along with exercising less bureaucratic oversight on caseworkers’ actions is necessary to remove the barriers preventing engagement with TripleP and strengthen caseworker-caregiver alliances. Doing so may provide space for caseworkers to challenge biases towards parents, learn more about TripleP, and capitalize on time and knowledge to refer caregivers to TripleP. Findings suggest it is imperative to develop and mandate training to increase caseworker knowledge and awareness of EBPIs and provide opportunities to shed light on their biases towards parents. Future research is needed determine if these trainings and opportunities increase caseworker referrals. Findings also need to be validated while implementing EBPIs in other child welfare organizations in the U.S.