Building the Evidence that Evidence Use Matters

Exploring the impact of professional development intervention on child welfare agencies’ use of evidence

Foster care agencies are increasingly required to use research evidence to better serve youth. To do so, though, they need effective strategies to train staff in how to use evidence.

Chapin Hall recently won a W.T. Grant Foundation award to study a structured intervention designed to increase staff capability, motivation, and opportunity to use research evidence when responding to local problems. Based on Chapin Hall’s long-running Advanced Analytics for Child Welfare Administration and EDGE programs, the intervention uses classroom and booster sessions to develop participants’ research evidence use skills. Further, it provides participants with access to agency-specific evidence by way of a web-based platform.

The research team, led by Drs. Fred Wulczyn and Lily Alpert, is targeting private foster care agency managers in the State of Wisconsin as they work to reduce length of stay in foster care, discharge children to permanent homes, place children in less restrictive environments, and respond to other local challenges.

Wulczyn and colleagues will use a cluster randomized trial, which involves a random sample of groups of subjects rather than individual subjects. Specifically, 60 agencies will be randomly assigned to either an intervention or comparison group to examine whether the intervention improves agency staff’s capability, motivation, and opportunity for research evidence use. They will also look at whether changes in the use of research evidence are linked to better outcomes for children placed in out-of-home care.

Phone and in-person interviews will allow us to assess changes in relevant skills and knowledge, evidence sources, and motivation to use research. This information will be supplemented with meeting observations and document reviews to identify changes within the agency that advance research use, such as investments in information technology, implementation of evidence-based practices, or the creation of supportive positions or policies. Using administrative data available in the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive, researchers will determine child permanency outcomes for participating agencies.

For this study, Chapin Hall is partnering with Dr. Larry Palinkas at the University of Southern California, as well as Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, and the Wisconsin Association of Family and Children’s Agencies.