Methods: In this study, conducted in collaboration with a public child welfare agency and local CBOs in a Western state, 159 child welfare referrals handled by multi-disciplinary teams (treatment group) were compared to 331 referrals handled via the traditional approach (comparison group). The study mimicked a randomized controlled trial: referrals logged on 2.5 days of the week were randomized to the treatment group, and referrals that were logged on the remaining days of the week were randomized to the comparison group. Administrative data from the child welfare agency and CBOs were utilized, and a series of chi-square, t-tests, and logistic regressions were conducted to answer the research questions. Additionally, a qualitative process evaluation was conducted to explore how the implementation of multi-disciplinary teams impacted agency operations.
Results: Logistic regression analyses indicated the treatment group was more than four times as likely as the control group to be referred to CBOs (OR=4.15, p<0.001) and twice as likely as the control group (OR=2.08, p<0.05) to receive a joint response meeting (wherein the child welfare worker meets with the referred family together with a CBO staff member). There were no significant differences between groups in families’ engagement with CBOs or child welfare outcomes (e.g., maltreatment re-referral). The process evaluation highlighted a potential shift toward greater trust and collaboration between CBOs and child welfare staff.
Conclusions and Implications: The multi-disciplinary team approach increased the likelihood of referral to CBOs and a joint response meeting, but overall it did not impact the proportion of families who engaged in services nor subsequent child welfare outcomes. Multi-disciplinary teams are a promising step in the initial process of connecting families to community-based services, and the child welfare agency where this research was conducted has used the knowledge from this study to improve collaboration with CBOs; however, additional work is needed to improve family engagement and effectively serve families in the community.