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Summary of “An Imperative: Evidenced-Based Practice within the Child Welfare System of Care”

Candice L. Maze, JD, Consultant, Maze Consulting, Inc.

Summary: Synopsis of an article authored by Maze and others (noted below) about the importance of evidence-based practice published in the Fall 2009 issue of Juvenile & Family Justice Today.

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Judges order children and families into intervention programs such as parenting skills training, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence courses. But how does a judge know whether these services actually help children and families or on what basis these specific services were chosen? How does a judge know whether the services are effective in improving the safety and well-being of children and their families? How does the judge know whether the parent has learned anything and has the ability, as a result, to modify his behavior?

By knowing the answers to these questions, judges could avoid wasting the limited money the child welfare system has available to rehabilitate parents and support children, and avoid wasting the short amount of time allotted under ASFA to rehabilitate families who often have chronic problems. Most importantly, judges could avoid jeopardizing the safety and well-being of children by returning them to parents who faithfully attended services that were not effective or measurable. Judges in child welfare cases must begin to demand the use of evidence-based practices to serve the most at-risk children and families.

The fact is that some services help, some services harm, and some services have no effect at all. It is critical for judges to know the difference. It is also critical that judges take a leadership role in creating reform by demanding truly effective services for the children and families in their child welfare jurisdictions. Judges must start asking questions about the quality of the services, demand proof of effectiveness and lead their community collaborations to introduce evidence-based services into the child welfare system.

The phrase “evidence-based practice” can have a number of practical and policy definitions that differ in breadth and philosophy. The term “program” refers to a social intervention program which is designed to alter the knowledge, skills or behavior of the participants.

All practitioners would like to think that they are following best practice and that their practice is based on evidence. However, for something to be evidence based, the intervention, program or treatment must have been established as effective through scientific research according to a set of explicit criteria. These are interventions that, when consistently applied, consistently improved client outcomes.

Unfortunately, there is a knowledge gap in the child welfare system about the value and use of evidence-based programs and practices. Too many judges, child welfare professionals, administrators, advocates and families are not knowledgeable about which programs are effective for families and children most at risk. To bridge this divide between research and practice in the child welfare system in one community, a group of practitioners and researchers formed Research and Reform for Children in Court, Inc. (RR4CC)[i] in 2008. RR4CC, a nonprofit corporation, develops linkages among academia, multidisciplinary experts and the juvenile court community by bringing science into the courtroom and promoting scientifically tested and proven practices, as well as by conducting and applying research about children and families to the dependency and delinquency systems.

Curious about the existence and awareness of evidence-based practices and programs in the child welfare system in Miami-Dade County, FL, members of RR4CC set out to answer the following questions:

  • Do practitioners understand what evidence-based practice means? 
  • What is the level of awareness by child welfare system professionals regarding how evidence-based practices effect positive change in families?
  • How can evidence-based practices be best disseminated by professionals and judges making referrals for services in the child welfare system?

The survey was administered at the 2008 Miami-Dade Community Based Care Alliance Annual Regional Child Welfare Conference, held November 2008 in Miami. The responses to the survey support the need for further training in this area. They also highlight the need to revise the criteria used for selecting services for families involved in the child welfare system. For example, on question number two, “How would you define evidence-based practice?”, an overwhelming 88% of the 209 respondents were unable to define evidence-based practices, even though reviewers evaluated the answers to this open-ended question very liberally and accepted any responses that included a reference to key words such as research, peer review, proven practice, proven outcomes, proven effectiveness or efficacy.

The complexities of the intergenerational nature of child maltreatment demand the use of effective interventions with the potential to break cycles of abuse and neglect within families. Engaging evidence-based practices and programs is the best mechanism to achieve these goals. Clearly, educating the community has the potential to create greater demand for these programs, lay the groundwork to meet eligibility for supportive funding, and promote creative reallocation of funds at the agency level for implementing evidence-based program development and delivery.

Read the full articles:

An Imperative: Evidence-Based Practice Within the Child Welfare System of Care

Principles for Successfully Implementing Evidence-Based Practices and Programs

Authors of “An Imperative: Evidenced-Based Practice within the Child Welfare System of Care”:

Judge Cindy S. Lederman is from the Miami-Dade Juvenile Court and a past NCJFCJ Board of Trustees member.

Lynne Katz, EdD, is a research assistant professor in the Departments of Psychology & Pediatrics, University of Miami and the director of the UM/Linda Ray Intervention Center.

Barbara Thomlison, PhD, is a professor in the School of Social Work at Florida International University.

Marielle Gomez-Kaifer, PhD, is a guardian ad litem volunteer in Miami-Dade County.

Candice L. Maze, JD, is an NCJFCJ consultant and has directed a number of projects, developed publications and provided training locally and nationally. 


 [i] The authors are affiliated with RR4CC as board members or consultants. For more information about RR4CC, visit www.rr4cc.org.

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