By Brian Deakins, Children's Bureau Program Specialist
Program evaluation plays a critical role in child welfare. Evaluations can answer important questions about child welfare policies, programs, and services, like whether they work and for whom. That is why the Children's Bureau recently released a new web section: Building Capacity to Improve Program Evaluation in Child Welfare.
When program evaluations are well designed and thoughtfully conducted, their findings can provide meaningful information that helps stakeholders make decisions about how best to prevent maltreatment, strengthen families, and achieve safety, permanency, and well-being for children.
Program evaluations can be designed to answer many of the questions that child welfare administrators, practitioners, judges, community members, service providers, families, advocates, researchers, youth, funders, and other stakeholders frequently have. These questions include:
Who received services and who didn't?
How much of each service was received?
How consistently were services delivered?
Did a new program achieve better outcomes when compared with existing practice?
For whom was the program most effective and least effective?
How much did it cost to deliver the program?
Is the program working in my community?
In recent years, the Children's Bureau has supported efforts to build capacity and promote ongoing dialogue about how evaluation in child welfare can be improved to build evidence, strengthen practice, and inform policy.
The National Child Welfare Evaluation Summits in 2009 and 2011 invited hundreds of child welfare professionals, evaluators, researchers, and their partners to come to Washington, DC, to share evaluation-related challenges, discoveries, and dilemmas.
In 2012, the Children's Bureau convened three Child Welfare Research and Evaluation Workgroups of national experts to create practical tools for agency administrators, evaluators, funders, and other target audiences. These groups recently released the following publications:
Last week, the Children's Bureau announced the Child Welfare Evaluation Virtual Summit Series, a group of 17 videos that combine illustration, animation, motion graphics, and content from national experts. Each video tackles an evaluation topic, and many propose solutions to common evaluation problems and direct viewers to additional tools and resources.
In order to use evaluation effectively, build knowledge, and explore questions about what works and how it works in child welfare, we need to work together. We have to build partnerships, share our perspectives, and engage one another in conversations about ways that evaluation can be improved. We also have to commit to building our capacities to better perform and participate in the evaluation process.
To learn more and to access the recently released Child Welfare Research and Evaluation Workgroup publications, Child Welfare Evaluation Virtual Summit Series, and recordings and materials from the 2011 National Child Welfare Evaluation Summit, please visit the Program Evaluation web section on the Children's Bureau website.