Methodological Considerations in Outcomes Measurement in Family and Child Welfare

Fred H. Wulczyn, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Columbia University School of Social Work

The paper looks at relatively recent advancement in research methodology that could bring, if properly applied, much needed breadth and depth to the story of child welfare outcomes. To show how these advancements might enhance outcomes research, the paper reviews flaws typically found in child welfare research. These flaws include a tendency toward reductionism in child welfare research, a reliance on inadequate statistical models, and a dependence of restrictive sampling strategies. As a result of these flaws clinicians and program planners alike confront their jobs without an adequate understanding of the basic epidemiology of placement; have not paid adequate attention to the distinction between treatment outcomes and program outcomes; and have not integrated actuarial realities of service delivery with realistic expectations about the influence services might have on the life course of children and families. In short, outcome studies often fail to consider empirically social, temporal, and programmatic ecology of service delivery. The paper concludes with a discussion of research methodologies and technologies that might help modernize outcome research.

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