Applying a theory-of-change framework to guide planning and evaluation can help set the stage for identifying goals, strategies, and milestones and promoting a more unified and systemic approach to reform. Additionally, demonstrating that services and programs are effective and worthy of continued funding has become key in approaching systems change. The following resources include theory-of-change approaches and how they can be used to improve child welfare practices, along with best practices models to improve safety, permanency, and well-being for children.
Describe the Theory of Change
Better Evaluation (2019)
Explains how and why a theory of change may be used when managing an evaluation and describes the planning process, what the theory of change should cover, the development process, identifying outcomes and impacts, and more.
Evaluating Systems Change: At a Glance [Infographic]
James Bell Associates, Inc. (2016)
Offers an infographic that outlines a systems change evaluation, including its phases and quick tips for launching an evaluation.
Evaluation Brief: Evaluating Systems and Organizational Change in Child Welfare Settings
Ahonen & Graham (2016)
James Bell Associates, Inc.
Highlights strategies for evaluating child welfare systems change and organizational change in child welfare settings. Theory of change is discussed on pages 2 and 3.
The Treatment Outcome Package (TOP): A Multi-Dimensional Level of Care Matrix for Child Welfare (PDF - 448 KB)
Kraus, Baxter, Alexander, & Bentley (2015)
Children and Youth Services, 57
Discusses a conceptual framework for determining various dimensions of need, including psychology, medical, and academic needs.
Tribal TANF—Child Welfare Coordination: Theory of Change and Logic Models
Ahonen, Geary, & Keene (2019)
James Bell Associates, Inc.
Provides an overview of key concepts and strategies for creating a theory of change as well as a logic model to help explain how a program functions and how to improve outcomes. The guide discusses how to ensure outputs and outcomes are measurable as well as provides information on revisiting a logic model so it remains relevant throughout the life of a program.
Blueprint for Practice: Chapin Hall’s Approach to Building and Sustaining a Practice Model
O’Brien, Small, & Lakshman (2020)
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
Presents a four-stage process and toolkit for developing practice models for child welfare and nonprofit agencies. The process covers building the scope of work, design, development, and final implementation.
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Child Welfare Information Gateway
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A Framework for Competent Child Welfare Practice
University of Minnesota, Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (2018)
Presents the framework that guides child welfare practice in Minnesota. The guide is intended to provide practitioners across the country with an organizing structure from which they can refine their day-to-day child welfare practice. The competencies included in the framework showcase the values, knowledge, and skills needed to effectively practice child welfare.
A Framework to Design, Test, Spread, and Sustain Effective Practice in Child Welfare (PDF - 807 KB)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau (2014)
Offers a framework designed for use by evaluators, funders, and child welfare professionals to promote better integration of evaluation into child welfare program and policy decision-making as well encourage stronger partnerships between stakeholders.
Video Series: A Framework to Design, Test, Spread, and Sustain Effective Practice in Child Welfare [Video series]
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau
Offers a series of animated videos that explain a framework for how to implement and evaluate child welfare interventions. Each video builds upon the topics presented in the previous videos. Taken together, they demonstrate how child welfare administrators, evaluators, and funders can use evaluation, the application of findings, and decision-making to improve program outcomes.