Academic journal article Child Welfare

Engaging the Child Welfare Community in Examining the Use of Research Evidence

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Engaging the Child Welfare Community in Examining the Use of Research Evidence

Article excerpt

Improving the lives of children and youth at risk of or experiencing maltreatment is complex work. There are numerous ongoing efforts in the child welfare community to address the gap between what is known (by researchers) and what is done (by policymakers and practitioners), as well as the gap between the knowledge the child welfare community needs and what exists in the research evidence.

To some extent, the child welfare community benefits from prior efforts in children's mental health to bridge a research-to-practice gap. The publication of major reports compelled attention to the prevalence of children with mental health needs, the importance of addressing those needs, and the cost of failing to do so (Committee On Quality Of Healthcare In America, 2001; Institute of Medicine (U.S.), 2006; New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003). Despite an expanding body of promising or evidence-based behavioral health practices, uptake into usual care settings was found to be limited (Weisz & Addis, 2006). As a result, researchers called for an increasing focus on the emerging science of implementation research (Proctor et al., 2008).

This focus on "what works" in practice settings and implementation science has shaped the context for discussions in child welfare. However, a "what works" focus is too narrow to encompass all the potential uses of research evidence in child welfare. Even within this focus, the evidence base in many areas of child welfare practice is limited. As of February 2014, only 27 of the 325 programs (8%) catalogued in the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) met the criterion of "well supported by research," and only two of those had been rated as having "high" relevance to child welfare systems (Framework Workgroup, 2014). The Children's Bureau has led efforts to guide the design, implementation, and evaluation of interventions in a manner that builds empirical evidence and supports their use in routine practice (Frameworks Workgroup, 2014; Child Welfare Evaluation Virtual Summit, 2014; Permanency Innovations Initiative, 2013).

This paper explores the potential of three frameworks from the research literature to advance conversations about and further empirical study of research use in child welfare. Findings from studies funded by the William T. Grant Foundation are examined to draw themes across studies. Specific questions that guide this examination are:

* Do the frameworks illuminate the research-policy-practice interface in a manner that makes the findings more useful to research users in the child welfare community?

* Do these frameworks create a broader understanding of research use beyond the instrumental use of evidence-based interventions?

Examining the Use of Research Evidence

The William T. Grant Foundation (Foundation) has a long-standing interest in supporting research that can inform policy and practice. This interest led to a grant-making initiative on understanding the acquisition, interpretation, and use of research evidence (URE) in policy and practice. Between 2010 and 2014, the Foundation funded nine studies on the use of research evidence by policymakers and practitioners in social services, primarily in child welfare and children's mental health. The Foundation defines research evidence broadly: empirical findings derived from systematic research methods and analyses, inclusive of different types of research questions, research designs, and researchers working within or outside policy or practice organizations (W.T. Grant Foundation, 2014). This broad definition creates an opportunity to explore how members of the child welfare community use research evidence in a variety of decisions and actions.

The Foundation's URE studies drew from a wide range of academic disciplines and bodies of research literature: political science, public administration, and sociology on the policy process, deliberation, policy implementation, and organizational learning. …

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