Introduction

By Bock, Joe | Child Welfare, May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Introduction


Bock, Joe, Child Welfare


Over the past several decades, the child welfare field has made a growing commitment to using evidence to inform policy and practice. This is visible in public and private sector initiatives around building and using evidence-based policy and practice interventions.

The Children's Bureau (CB), the first federal agency within the U.S. government to focus exclusively on improving the lives of children, youth, and families, is committed to increasing the use of research evidence in the delivery of services to the child welfare population. CB partners with federal, state, tribal, and local agencies to improve the overall health and well-being of our nation's children, youth, and families. To do so, CB provides guidance to states, tribes, and child welfare agencies on federal child welfare laws and regulations; funds essential program services; and provides training and technical assistance to improve child welfare service delivery. CB also invests in program innovation through discretionary grants that are designed to build evidence of specific interventions and promote use of evidence-based practices.

While the child welfare field has made great strides in lowering the number of substantiated reports, deaths, long-term out-of-home placements, group placements, and youth aging out of care, there remains much work to be done. The numbers are still unacceptably high, and in some cases they are trending in the wrong direction (Statistics and Research, 2016). For example, after declining more than 20% between FY 2006 and FY 2012 to a low of 397,000, the number of children in foster care at the end of FY 2015 was 428,000, representing a 3.4% increase from FY 2014, when states reported 414,000 children in foster care (Trends in Foster Care and Adoption, 2015). Contributing factors to this increase include parental substance use, lack of mental health services, and a decrease in prevention services. In order to address these and other challenges, there is a need for rigorous testing of innovative approaches that build evidence in diverse contexts. Incorporating rigorous evaluation components and building evidence will support the field in promoting use of evidence-based programs, bridging the research-to-practice gap by communicating evidence to the field in a timely and efficient manner, and focusing on effective implementation.

Improving outcomes for all children, youth, and families in or at risk of entering the child welfare system requires specific attention to research designs that take place within diverse geographical areas and target and consider the viewpoints of all racial and ethnic groups. Child welfare touches the lives of many people from traditionally vulnerable populations. Certain groups of people, such as the American Indian and Alaskan Native communities, have had and continue to have negative experiences with program evaluation and research. It is critical that researchers engage with communities to determine how to best overcome challenges associated with program evaluation and ongoing research. To help inform program and practice evaluations involving Native Americans and their communities, CB convened a workgroup of Native American researchers and program administrators that produced A Roadmap for Collaborative and Effective Evaluation in Tribal Communities to assist communities draw on the long traditions of successful, culturally appropriate evaluation strategies (Tribal Evaluation Workgroup, 2013).

This special issue of Child Welfare highlights many of the key ingredients needed to improve outcomes for children, youth, and families: cross-system collaboration, ongoing staff and system capacity building, effective implementation, and strategies to improve the use and usefulness of research in the field. To further the growth of evidence-based policy and practice within child welfare, it is important to continue developing and strengthening partnerships between, within and across public and private sectors- applying knowledge gathered from understanding child welfare and other systems, and engaging youth and families served by the child welfare. …

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