Academic journal article Child Welfare

Special Foreword: Making Research Work in Child Welfare: Overcoming Challenges

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Special Foreword: Making Research Work in Child Welfare: Overcoming Challenges

Article excerpt

This special issue of Child Welfare focuses on ways to improve the use of research within child welfare in ways that benefit the most vulnerable children and families. By research we mean a type of evidence that comes from applying systematic methods and analyses to investigate a question that is defined before the work begins. This includes descriptive studies, evaluations, syntheses, and cost-benefit studies.

The focus on constructive uses of high-quality research is timely. Limited resources require a need to focus on programs and services that have a strong chance of meeting the needs of children, youth and their families, and we suspect this will require integrating research evidence and the experience and expertise that already existing within child welfare and related child and family serving organizations. In addition, "private and public funders as well as policy makers [are] applying increased pressure to collect and analyze data, incorporate research knowledge, and build evidence of effectiveness" (Yates, Nix, Coldiron, & Williams). In fact, as you will see in the introduction to this special issue, the Children's Bureau, the federal agency best positioned to influence policy and federal funding for child welfare organizations, has significantly increased its emphasis on using research evidence in the delivery of child welfare services.

This special issue reflects the views of both the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the William T. Grant Foundation (WTG) that research has the potential to meaningfully inform child welfare policy and practice. We also believe research agendas that are informed by decision-makers would better serve child welfare organizations. It's a two way street.

The notion of improving the use of research to promote improved outcomes in child welfare may seem abstract and less important than other issues facing a child or family. However, strengthening connections between the research and decisionmaking relevant to practice and policy has practical value. For example, in this issue, Nunno describes the importance of appropriate uses of restraints and the role research can play to guide the identification and application of alternative approaches to minimize additional trauma to youth. With such high stakes, and increasing external pressures, it is time for child welfare organizations to call on research in meaningful ways.

Research also has the potential to sharpen decision-makers' understanding of issues facing their organizations and children, youth, and families; generate evidence about the effectiveness of programs, policies, and practices; and guide improvement (Littell & Shlonsky, 2010). It can inform strategies for allocating resources in tight fiscal climates and guide the selection of programs that promote child safety (DuMont, 2014). Research-based risk assessments can minimize disruptions to a child's living situation or schooling and conserve resources. Research-informed protocols can help train workers and instruct the principles they use in practice. Research can also be used strategically to justify existing positions or argue for new approaches. Thus, different uses of research can affect the short- and long-term outcomes for children, youth, and families.

CWLA and WTG share a concern that the potential of research often goes unrealized and that in the long run, we miss opportunities to do right by children. Indeed, in this issue, the empirical studies by Palinkas and colleagues and Wulczyn and colleagues reveal low rates of research use within the child welfare system. They do not assign blame, but instead report on lower research use relative to other service areas (Palinkas et al.) and throughout various levels of the system (Wulczyn et al.). These findings align with prior research (Aarons & Palinkas, 2007; Wang, Saldana, Brown, & Chamberlain, 2010), again underscoring the perennial challenge of integrating research in child welfare. …

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