Methods: Our analysis relies on original qualitative data combined with a conceptual and historical analysis of secondary data examining social work and child welfare practice and policy. Ground-level experiences on the implementation of EBP in child welfare are drawn from 48 semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in Minnesota and Washington state who were involved in the FFPSA planning process. We also utilize qualitative data from participant observation in Minnesota, including 76 different meetings of 13 different workgroups or events, for over 100 hours of observation.
Results: We find that reliance on the Clearinghouse to implement EBPs under FFPSA has dampened meaningful engagement with the transformational goal of FFPSA: to keep children safe and in their family’s home. Instead, we find that the authority of the Clearinghouse is used to justify the selection of services that are less tailored to family needs and community preferences, and to rationalize the abandonment of meaningful community engagement and use of culturally responsive practices. The end result is policy implementation which is disconnected from the goals of social justice at the core of child welfare criticisms. Continued attempts to reform child welfare through top-down mandates like FFPSA sacrifice critical parts of the social work practice knowledge base needed for genuine child welfare reform.
Conclusions and implications: The push to identify and promote what services and practices work best for families is not an inherently harmful movement. However, the prioritizing of specific types of evidence may reach beyond this goal, and instead limits the tools and knowledge available to practitioners serving diverse families with unique needs. A compromise between these two goals may mean changing how the Clearinghouse understands evidence, ultimately expanding the knowledge base about “what works” in child welfare practice.