Evaluation Finds Casey Effort to Enhance Child Welfare Investigative Decision Making is on the Right Track

Posted May 20, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Westat produced an evaluation of the casey Foundation's On the Frontline initiative

Over the past sev­er­al years, On the Front­line — an ini­tia­tive of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion — aimed to help case­work­ers and their super­vi­sors make bet­ter inves­tiga­tive deci­sions about pro­tect­ing chil­dren and strength­en­ing families.

Ques­tion is: How well did it work?

Research firm Wes­t­at looked to the two sites that imple­ment­ed On the Front­line — Ohio’s Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Divi­sion of Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices and Colorado’s Jef­fer­son Coun­ty Depart­ment of Human Ser­vices — to learn more.

Know­ing when chil­dren have safe­ty risks with­in their fam­i­lies or need to be removed from their homes is a fun­da­men­tal respon­si­bil­i­ty of often under-resourced child wel­fare agen­cies,” says Tracey Feild, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group. A sta­ble, com­mit­ted and com­pe­tent staff and a sys­tem for mak­ing con­sis­tent, data-dri­ven deci­sions are essen­tial to ful­fill­ing this responsibility.”

Westat’s eval­u­a­tion of On the Front­line gen­er­at­ed five key find­ings. The firm found that:

  1. The initiative’s strat­e­gy for address­ing work­force sta­bil­i­ty and com­pe­tence showed con­sis­tent imple­men­ta­tion and pos­i­tive results.
  2. The initiative’s strat­e­gy for devel­op­ing a sys­tem feed­back mech­a­nism increased the use of action­able data and high­light­ed the impor­tance of front­line case­work­er feedback.
  3. The initiative’s strat­e­gy for sup­port­ing and improv­ing front­line deci­sion mak­ing showed mixed results. Eval­u­a­tors found that this strat­e­gy was inter­pret­ed and put into prac­tice dif­fer­ent­ly by the sites, which made it dif­fi­cult to doc­u­ment how it con­tributed to improvements.
  4. Agency lead­er­ship and con­tex­tu­al fac­tors influ­enced implementation.
  5. The work required to imple­ment the ini­tia­tive was exten­sive and out­side assis­tance was beneficial.

From these find­ings, Westat’s eval­u­a­tion team gen­er­at­ed rec­om­men­da­tions for agen­cies wish­ing to take on these strate­gies. Their advice includes:

  • Sequence imple­men­ta­tion — par­tic­u­lar­ly in large sites — to make the process more man­age­able; and
  • Replace the cur­rent approach to improv­ing front­line deci­sion mak­ing with a new mod­el focused on super­vi­sion and coaching.

The report’s insights — beyond being encour­ag­ing — can help inform how the Foun­da­tion and child wel­fare agen­cies con­tin­ue to work togeth­er to strength­en child pro­tec­tion. The Casey Foun­da­tion is com­mit­ted to devel­op­ing and shar­ing evi­dence about bet­ter approach­es for pro­tect­ing chil­dren and ensur­ing they have the sup­port of a life­long fam­i­ly.” says Jef­frey Poiri­er, a senior asso­ciate in the Foundation’s Research, Eval­u­a­tion, Evi­dence and Data unit.

About On the Frontline

On the Front­line, launched in 2015, sought to strength­en a child wel­fare agency’s orga­ni­za­tion­al capac­i­ty to improve inves­tiga­tive deci­sion-mak­ing prac­tices and — in doing so — improve child safety.

To real­ize these goals, the ini­tia­tive cham­pi­oned three con­cur­rent strate­gies. They are to:

  1. Build a Strong Work­force strat­e­gy, which aimed to address work­force sta­bil­i­ty and com­pe­tence, bring­ing both human resources and child wel­fare staff to the table to improve hir­ing practices.
  2. Strength­en Sys­tem Deci­sion Mak­ing strat­e­gy, which sought to devel­op a sys­tem feed­back mech­a­nism that com­bined quan­ti­ta­tive data mea­sures with qual­i­ta­tive case review data to observe pat­terns, iden­ti­fy issues and cre­ate data-informed solu­tions to improve practice.
  3. Strength­en Work­er Deci­sion Mak­ing strat­e­gy, which focused on under­stand­ing how front­line inves­tiga­tive deci­sions are made and imple­ment­ing process­es to sup­port them.

To test the initiative’s con­cept, the Casey Foun­da­tion invit­ed three pub­lic child wel­fare agen­cies to imple­ment these strate­gies. The two sites that sus­tained these efforts are the focus of Westat’s imple­men­ta­tion eval­u­a­tion report.

Learn more about the deci­sion-mak­ing process­es On the Front­line agen­cies adopted

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