Almost half the states in the U.S. have implemented a differential response approach in child welfare with the goal of keeping children safer by better engaging and supporting families. The differential response track voluntarily engages low to moderate risk families by setting aside fault-finding. To explore yet unanswered questions about this growing approach, this study used sequential mixed methods to examine the implementation and impact of Minnesota's approach, called Family Assessment response. The first phase of the study used logistic regression to analyze administrative child welfare data for cases screened in between 2003 to 2010, to explore whether race was a predictor in these decision points: pathway assignment to either traditional investigation (TI) or family assessment (FA) response; switching pathway assignment from FA to TI; removal of children to out-of-home placement; and re-reporting to child protection within 12 months of case closing. The second phase used a comparative case study approach to explore implementation strategies that might help explain differences in outcomes by county. Data collection for this phase included semi-structured focus groups with workers and interviews with supervisors in the nine counties in the sample. Racial equity outcomes were mixed. Findings indicated that when controlling for poverty and other risk factors, African American, Native American and Multiracial children were less likely to be assigned to FA compared to Caucasian children for some, but not all years in the study timeframe. Disparities around pathway switch from family assessment to traditional investigation completely diminished over time. This study also found several key implementation strategies that were common in counties with positive outcomes, including effective integration of multiple family engaging and safety focused approaches; strong team cohesion to build capacity in family assessment; and a focus on engaging enduring supports for families. Findings of this study underscore the need for jurisdictions to have culturally responsive and financially-related resources to support families, with particular focus on continued resources after the pilot phase of implementation. This study also highlights the importance of applying a racial equity lens in examining new social policies and practices to ensure equitable implementation for all children and families.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2013. Major: Social Work. Advisor: Elizabeth B. Lightfoot. 1 computer file (PDF); xiii, 320 pages, appendices A-F.
Semanchin Jones, Annette Marie.
From investigating to engaging families: examining the impact and implementation of family assessment response on racial equity in child welfare.
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