Methods: Data were collected in 2019 via statewide online survey of child welfare professionals (N=241) in a Midwestern state. To assess participants’ professional values about the focus of child welfare work, we used the Dalgleish Scale (Dalgleish, 2010), which includes 8 items on which participants must choose between an orientation toward child safety versus family preservation. We applied linear regression to test the association between both tenure in child welfare and position level (e.g., frontline practitioner versus supervisor/administrators), and professionals’ values regarding the focus of child welfare work. Both analyses controlled for professionals’ race and regional location.
Results: More than 40% of professionals reported ≤3 years’ experience in child welfare, as compared to 17.3% with 4-6 years, 8.8% with 7-9 years, and 30% with ≥10 more years. More than two-thirds of the sample (68.9%) comprised frontline practitioners. The remaining professionals were supervisors (13.2%), administrators (9.3%), or other (8.6%) (e.g., trainers). When controlling for demographic characteristics, linear regression indicated that tenure in child welfare (F(10,249)=2.29, p<.05, R2=.08) and position level (F(8, 232)=6.13, p<.001, R2=.18) both significantly impacted professional values. Professionals with ≥10 years’ experience reported values significantly more aligned with family preservation than professionals with ≤3 years’ experience (t=-3.22, p<.001), as did supervisory/administrator position as compared to frontline position (t=-5.79, p<.001).
Conclusions/Implications: This study contributes to the growing literature exploring professional values and decision-making related to child safety and family preservation. Overall, we found differences among child welfare frontline practitioners and supervisors/administrators, as well as differences by professional tenure. To better align with policy that promotes family engagement and prioritizes family connections (Children’s Bureau, 2019), these findings may suggest a need for additional training on family-centered practices among early career professionals and ongoing professional development among frontline workers. Further, recent implementation literature would also indicate that professional development activities must extend beyond one-time trainings to provide child welfare staff with ongoing coaching and other supports to integrate and actualize guiding principles in daily child welfare practice. Future research should further explore the transmission of system and organization values to child welfare professionals.