This month’s research bulletin includes articles and reports about Indigenous child mental health, cross-sector collaboration and interventions, legal approaches to family preservation, the effect of supportive housing on child welfare, and the changing nature of social work.
- Working together to improve the mental health of indigenous children: A systematic review (Sept 2019)
- Effects of an interdisciplinary approach to parental representation in child welfare (July 2019)
- The Costs and Potential Savings of Supportive Housing for Child Welfare–Involved Families (May 2019)
- Changing practice cultures in statutory child protection: Practitioners’ perspectives (May 2018)
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1. Working together to improve the mental health of indigenous children: A systematic review (2019)
This review analyses the available knowledge about intersectoral service integration processes and tools in terms of improving the mental health of Indigenous children. Eleven studies from four countries (Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand) were reviewed and compared.
The authors found that mental health service utilization rates for Indigenous youth to be very low in all four countries and identified a combination of factors for this, including stigmatization of mental health, lack of culturally trained providers, and lack of available primary healthcare service.
They identified six “enablers” that improve cross-sectoral service integration for practitioners and policy-makers to consider. These were: involvement of community, access and cost, collaborative multidisciplinary health services, strong relationships, cultural sensitivity, and organizational and staff capacity.
The researchers also identified a need for families and youth to lead the development of models of Indigenous care, carried out by health professionals, and not the other way around and for more interventions to be evaluated by Indigenous communities themselves.
2. Effects of an interdisciplinary approach to parental representation in child welfare (2019)
This study was designed to assess the impact of parental representation on child welfare outcomes in family law cases involving abuse or neglect.
Using administrative child welfare data from the state of New York, the study assessed the outcomes of 9582 families and their 18,288 children and compared the difference between those families that were provided interdisciplinary law office representation (including social work staff and parent advocates, among others) to those provided a standard panel attorney.
The study did not find a notable difference in terms of foster care entry nor any difference in children’s likelihoods of experiencing a subsequent substantiated report of maltreatment. However, when children’s parents received the interdisciplinary representation and those children did enter foster care, children spent 118 fewer days (on average) in foster care during the four years following the abuse or neglect case filing. Additionally, children whose parents received the interdisciplinary model achieved overall permanency, reunification, and guardianship more quickly.
These results provide evidence that interdisciplinary legal representation for parents is an effective intervention that can promote permanency for children in foster care.
3. The Costs and Potential Savings of Supportive Housing for Child Welfare-Involved Families (2019)
This study focused on a demonstration project that provided supportive housing to families in the child welfare system in five different US states. This report calculates and analyzes the costs and/or savings (from the perspective of the agencies providing services) of the program that resulted from the families’ use of homeless programs and child welfare services.
Most notably, the project greatly improved families’ housing stability. Nearly 86% of families in the treatment group were living in their own homes after 12 months compared with 49% of families in the comparison group. This increase in housing stability yielded modest savings due to the reduced use of homeless programs.
However, supportive housing did not affect the likelihood that families would have a new substantiated allegation of child abuse or neglect. Likewise, supportive housing had no effect on child welfare investigation costs for any of the demonstration sites. However, access to supportive housing did increase the likelihood of family reunification and also reduced the amount of time children spent in foster care.
The authors suggest that the greatest potential for child welfare savings may be targeting supportive housing to families with preservation cases that are most likely to otherwise result in removal. And while supportive housing can help keep families intact and improve their housing stability, it does sometimes require greater investment in service delivery by agencies providing those services.
4. Changing practice cultures in statutory child protection: Practitioners’ perspectives (2018)
Many child protection systems struggle to implement new, more effective models of frontline practice within a context of high caseloads, increasing costs, and compliance‐focused bureaucratic cultures. This article discusses changes brought about by Practice First, a framework for practice introduced to improve the quality and effectiveness of child protection work in Australia.
This research shows that the initiative was effective in changing cultures of practice, enabled workers to spend more face‐to‐face time with families, helped them to build relationships, and was perceived to improve the quality of decision‐making.
However, this was not achieved through reduced administrative burdens. And the new framework, though popular with practitioners and families alike, did not remove all obstacles to effective practice. Broader, systemic challenges persisted. Departments remained beset by staff vacancies and information technology difficulties, and the risk‐averse approach to child protection was still seen to prevail in some sections of the department.