Toolkit Promotes Partnerships

Promoting university/agency partnerships to boost child welfare outcomes is the focus of a new report and toolkit.

The report, Strengthening University/Agency Partnerships to Enhance Child Welfare Outcomes: A Toolkit for Building Research Partnerships, was produced by the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR) and supported by Casey Family Programs (CFP). Based in Seattle, CFP is a national operating foundation that serves children, youth and families in the child welfare system through direct services as well as by child-welfare practice and policy.

Joan Levy Zlotnik, executive director of IASWR, said the project was an inter-organizational initiative that drew input from dozens of sources involved with child welfare, including social work leaders, child welfare administrators and researchers, and research center directors and staff, as well as child welfare-focused social work faculty and agency staff.

The initiative examined the strategies, resources and technical assistance needed to promote strong child welfare research partnerships among universities and state or county public agencies. Child welfare is a field of social work practice that has a long history of social work leadership in service delivery, education and training, research,and policy.

Zlotnik said the report and toolkit will be useful to several groups, from child welfare researchers just beginning their careers to those who are looking to launch a child welfare research center to those seeking to build a university/agency child welfare research partnership.

The toolkit keeps in step with CFP's 2020 Vision, which aims to reduce the number of children in care by 50 percent and improve self-sufficiency for those who remain in the system.

"If we are to meet the goals of the Casey 2020 Vision, it will demand all of us working together," Zlotnik said.

The report:

  • Identifies existing strategies that result in effective partnerships and attributes to guide successful endeavors;
  • Highlights practical strategies to strengthen child welfare research partnerships between universities and public child welfare agencies;
  • Provides guidance to address sticky issues that often bog down such partnerships and identifies common technical assistance needs;
  • Identifies examples of research centers;
  • Identifies sources of funding and gaps in funding; and
  • Recommends national, state level and university action steps that can be taken to build and sustain child welfare research partnerships;

Susan Smith, director of data advocacy for CFP, said the organization is pleased with the toolkit, which included input from Casey staff. CFP urges the use of statistics and research findings to back recommendations that affect programs and initiatives, Smith said. The new toolkit "is a long-term effort that sets out a plan of action," she said.

Smith said what she found most interesting in the report was the variety of ways agencies or centers are funded. The report highlighted the need for schools and agencies to communicate with each other and to find funding streams that are consistent with their goals. Part of the challenge is that each state may have its own funding environment for agencies, she said.

The report encouraged the effort to bring resources together in order to find flexible funding strategies, Smith said. "This can help us to persuade child welfare agencies that universities can be good partners," she said. "It's about taking the time to get resources together to make it a win-win situation for both sides."

The report examines the support efforts and conditions that can facilitate university/child welfare research collaborations and promote the rebuilding of child welfare research capacity.

Although more than 30 child welfare research centers can be identified in schools of social work, they have different structures and funding streams, the report stated.

It also noted that despite numerous funding sources, there is no targeted, specific source of funds that consistently supports field-initiated research and the development and training of child welfare researchers. "The absence of such a funding stream affects both the research interests of agencies and the research endeavors of faculty," the report stated.

The lack of a sustained source of child welfare research funding affects the career development of doctoral and early child welfare researchers. In addition, the lack of organized mentorship opportunities, the absence of an organized national network, and the lack of a highly visible setting to specifically convene senior and junior child welfare scholars fragment the field and isolate some child welfare researchers who are not in settings with well-established relationships.

Action steps need to occur at the national, state and university levels, the report states. The toolkit provides guidance and examples to address these next steps.

The toolkit provides an overview of action steps:

  • National: reestablish a home for child welfare services research and support new research studies;
  • State: access capacity for collaboration and engage with university partners;
  • University: teach students to use research and data to prepare for practice and establish relationships with public agencies.