Child Welfare Caseworkers: A Pivotal Role in the Uptake of Evidence-based Practices

Christina M DeNard, University of Pennsylvania


Despite the proliferation of evidence-based practices (EBPs) for children and families, some children and families are not utilizing EBPs in the child welfare (CW) system. This may be caused by a lack of CW caseworker referrals since children and families access services through their caseworker. Theory-based research that uses an explanatory model is needed to elucidate areas of intervention to increase CW referrals to EBPs. Therefore, this mixed method study seeks to examine factors that influence caseworkers’ decisions to refer and to develop an adapted Theory of Planned Behavior model explaining caseworker referral decisions. Participants (N=110) were caseworkers and support staff at two privately contracted child welfare agencies that could refer families to an EBP, the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P). Poisson regression was used to determine the impact of caseworker demographic variables and intention to refer on the number of referrals to Triple P. A subset of the sample (N=12), participated in one-on-one interviews focused on factors that influenced their decision to refer to Triple P. Directed content analyses was used to determine whether participant data supported an adapted TPB model, inclusive of information-sharing and intra-organizational relationships. Regression results showed that participants from Agency A were more likely to refer to Triple P than participants from Agency B (b=3.25, p<.05). Additionally, participants who identified as African-American were less likely to refer to Triple P than those who did not (b=-3.38, p<.05). Intention to refer was not a significant predictor of caseworker referral to Triple P. Qualitative data revealed that 1) beliefs about Triple P’s effectiveness, 2) conflicting court mandates, and 3) information about and agency support around Triple P, impacted caseworkers’ decision to refer. Qualitative results lent support to an adapted TPB model and corroborated quantitative findings. Recommendations include increasing communication and training for caseworkers and court officials, fostering intra-organizational relationships, and increasing agency support for Triple P. Future studies that examine organizational variables such as supervisory buy-in and system-level variables such as court mandates are needed to further elucidate the factors that affect caseworker referrals to EBPs and EBP implementation in CW settings.

Subject Area

Social work

Recommended Citation

DeNard, Christina M, "Child Welfare Caseworkers: A Pivotal Role in the Uptake of Evidence-based Practices" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10615869.