Abstract: Engaging Family Voice in Child Welfare Program and Policy Change: Understanding Current Practices (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

476P Engaging Family Voice in Child Welfare Program and Policy Change: Understanding Current Practices

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Astraea Augsberger, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University, MA
Mary Collins, PhD, Professor, Social Welfare Policy, Boston University, Boston, MA
Benjamin Levine, MA, Social Work Student, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose: In recent years, family engagement has received increased attention in child welfare. Studies report improved experiences and outcomes when families are involved in decision making practices. Robust engagement may also serve as a racially responsive approach to improving outcomes for racial and ethnic groups at risk for negative child welfare trajectories and outcomes. While engaging families in case-level decision making has received attention in the literature as a critical component of family-centered practice, there is a dearth of empirical research on macro-level family engagement. This paper is part of a larger multi-methods study examining child welfare family engagement models. It answers the research question: what opportunities exist for families to have voice in child welfare policy and program decision-making?

Methods: In a previous phase of the study, the authors conducted a scoping review of the literature and identified the following family engagement practice models: peer mentoring and advocacy, advisory boards, and consumer led organizing. This phase of the study used two sources of publicly available data: 1) state child welfare agency websites and 2) Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs). Using previously identified search terms, the research team searched websites of state public child welfare agencies (n=50) and their links and attachments for examples of family engagement in program and policy. Then, the research team collected and reviewed CFSRs in each state. As the search progressed, the search terms were defined and expanded. The data was placed in an excel table and discussed by the research team on a bi-weekly basis throughout data collection. Data was coded by three members of the research team using content analysis.

Findings: Most states described at least one example of family engagement in macro-level practice. The most common forms were peer mentoring/advocacy and advisory boards/committees. The least common form were consumer organizing. Another form was coded as engagement of “intermediary organization” in which the identified organization was engaged in evaluating and elevating family engagement. There was a great deal of variation among states in the structure and activities in each practice model however common activities included outreach, advocacy, mentoring, training, empowerment, and evaluation. There was limited data on racially/culturally targeted family engagement models but there was some data specific to engaging Native American/Alaska Native families and communities consistent with Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) policy.

Conclusions and Implications: Our analysis of child welfare agency websites and CFSRs identified four distinct practice models for engaging family voice in policy and program decision-making. There was large variation among states in the family engagement activities documented, but the data demonstrated at least some level of commitment to engaging families in macro child welfare practice. Additional research is needed to capture the origin, structure and activities of each family engagement model. There was limited data on racially and culturally responsive practice models. This is critical area in need of further examination. Finally, additional research is needed to capture the degree to which family voice leads to meaningful program and policy-level change.