Children in Foster Care

By James G. Barber; Paul H. Delfabbro | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Methodology

Overview

This chapter summarizes the methodology employed in our tracking study of children in foster care. The first part of the chapter provides a critical overview of the conceptual issues that must be considered when undertaking any kind of evaluation research in the field of alternative care. This first section also describes the analytical framework that was developed for the study as a whole. The second part of the chapter then provides a detailed description of the methodology and the measures on which most of the later chapters are based.


Towards an analytical framework

Welfare services are complex systems, involving the interaction of different individuals, multiple service providers, and different levels of government. With this in mind, it is unwise to expect that the quality of the system as a whole can be understood merely in terms of one area of performance, or that individuals in one part of the system will necessarily be aware of what happens in other areas. For these reasons, an eclectic or mixed methodology approach is required; one that can not only incorporate the various components of the system but also take advantage of the different sources of data that are available through the system.

There are also fundamental decisions to be taken about the precise focus of a study into the outcomes of foster care. Generally speaking, when the term ‘outcome’ is used within the field of child welfare, it is either too narrowly defined or confused with related terms such as ‘output’ or ‘goal’. In Courtney’s view (1993), the outcomes of alternative care should be broken into three separate components: (1) the characteristics of the services provided, (2) the quality of case processes and (3) the case outcomes. Table 4.1 presents these components together with illustrations of performance indicators relevant to each of them. The first component, service characteristics, refers mainly to the quality of placements provided. This includes not only

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