Abstract: (Withdrawn) What Works in Child Welfare: Expanding the Understanding of â₀Œevidence Basedâ₀� to Promote Greater Equity (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

523P (Withdrawn) What Works in Child Welfare: Expanding the Understanding of â₀Œevidence Basedâ₀� to Promote Greater Equity

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Melanie Nadon, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, IL
Jennifer Mosley, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Ariel Maschke, A.M., Doctoral Student, University of Chicago
Nicole Marwell, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Chicago
Background and Purpose: Throughout its modern history, the child welfare system has faced extensive criticisms including failure to protect children, negative outcomes for youth exiting foster care, and persistent racism and classism at all levels of child welfare system contact. In the face of these persistent and public criticisms, the child welfare system has been pushed to improve both efficacy and equity. One attempt to reform and legitimize child welfare policy and practice has been the growth of policies that require the use of evidence-based practices (EBPs). This includes the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) of 2018, which expanded Title IV-E funding for prevention services that meet a federal Clearinghouse definition of evidence-based. Despite the well-intentioned goals of this evidence-based movement, we argue that there are potential downsides as well, including threats to foundational social work values, such as the right to self-determination, valuing community-based knowledge, and the preservation of staff autonomy. To address how such reforms are being experienced on the ground, this paper critically examines the implementation of FFPSA and its related EBP services.

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.