Child welfare agencies use evidence-based practices to work toward the best possible outcomes for children, youth, and families. The child welfare field continues to make important strides in using data, research, and evaluation to inform practice and decision-making, but challenges remain. The lack of available evidence about specific child welfare practices and programs is one barrier to widespread implementation of evidence-based practice.
While the evidence base for child welfare programs continues to lag behind that of other disciplines, that is beginning to change. The Federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 requires that prevention and kinship programs use evidence-based services, programs, and tools that meet specific requirements. This focus on evidence ensures that children and families receive services with demonstrated effectiveness and is part of the larger movement across child welfare toward evidence-based policy.
When selecting and implementing evidence-based practices, agencies and practitioners must weigh consistency with the target community's culture and values. By involving stakeholders in program development, evidence related to a particular model can help them understand why that model would assist a community in achieving desired outcomes. As a result, evidence-based practice can supplement the role of practice-based knowledge and clinical judgment.
The following resources present background information on using evidence-based practices in child welfare, guidance on selecting and implementing evidence-based interventions, and information on building evidence under the Family First Prevention Services Act.
A Blueprint for Embedding Evidence-Based Practices in Child Welfare
Annie E. Casey Foundation (2018)
Presents a process for using evidence-based practices in child welfare. The guide offers information on assessing and selecting interventions, establishing and sustaining implementation teams, developing an implementation structure, and supporting data use to ensure continuous quality improvement.
The Permanency Innovations Initiative: An Example of Building Evidence in Child Welfare [Video]
Administration for Children and Families (2016)
Showcases how the Permanency Innovations Initiative approach worked to increase the body of evidence available for child welfare innovations, develop a process for building evidence, and contribute to the creation of a culture of evidence-based practice and policy in child welfare.
Research Evidence Use by Child Welfare Agencies (PDF - 195 KB)
Wulczyn, Alpert, & Monahan-Price (2016)
CW360° Child Welfare Reform
Examines the use of child welfare research by policymakers, agency directors, and frontline staff to improve child welfare programs and how evidence-based practices could be better implemented for reform.
Selecting and Implementing Programs
California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare
Provides guidance and resources about the common issues for agencies and communities to consider when selecting and implementing evidence-based practices. Tools and implementation examples also are included.
Spotlight on Building Evidence and Using Evidence-Based Practices in Child Welfare
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau (2019)
Children's Bureau Express, 20(6)
Offers a selection of resources that highlight how building evidence and using evidence-based practices in child welfare can improve programs, services, tools and, ultimately, outcomes for families served.
Strategies to Promote Research Use in Child Welfare (PDF - 673 KB)
Roberts, Killos, Maher, O'Brien, & Pecora (2017)
Casey Family Programs
Presents evidence-based strategies from fields such as education, public health, and social work; provides examples of research use and impact; and lists factors for child welfare organizations to consider.
Using Evidence in Child Welfare (PDF - 272 KB)
Social Innovation Research Center
Provides information on how to select an appropriate evidence-based program in child welfare, how evidence-based programs can be implemented effectively, and how existing evidence-based programs can be improved.
A Video Series for Building Evidence on Effective Programs
Child Trends (2018)
Offers a series of five videos for child welfare leaders on building evidence for effective programs. The first video provides an overview of the series, while the others cover the steps involved in the process of becoming an evidence-based program.
What Are Some Examples of Evidence-Informed Practices to Keep Children Safe and Promote Permanency?
Casey Family Programs (2018)
Provides examples of evidence-based or evidence-informed practices in child welfare including primary prevention approaches, secondary prevention programs, behavioral management interventions, information on implementation, and more.
Evidence-Building Strategies in Child Welfare [Video]
Administration for Children and Families (2019)
Introduces the curriculum "Evidence-Building Strategies in Child Welfare," which is designed to help child welfare practitioners build knowledge and skills around evidence-based activities as a result of the passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018. The law calls for the use of child welfare services and programs that meet evidence-based requirements.
How Have Agencies Moved From Evidence to Action? An Exploration of Evidence-Based Practice Implementation to Support Preparation for Family First [Webinars]
Casey Family Programs (2018)
Offers two webinars detailing how child welfare agencies have implemented and spread evidence-based interventions. The webinars include discussions of key considerations, lessons learned, and intervention selection.
Intervention Evidence Standards for the Family First Prevention and Services Act (PDF - 70 KB)
Casey Family Programs (2018)
Outlines evidence standards and requirements for levels of evidence under the Family First Prevention and Services Act, which calls for the use of evidence-based interventions to help children avoid placement in foster care.