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March 2014Vol. 15, No. 3Social Worker Readiness for Organizational Change

While research has looked at successful change implementation in the fields of education, health, and psychology, little research on this topic has been specific to child welfare. A recent study examined the statewide implementation of a child welfare practice model, in addition to the role staff play in effective organizational change.

The study was conducted while the practice model was being implemented and supported with technical assistance from the Mountains and Plains Child Welfare Implementation Center and framed around the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) model. The evidence-based NIRN includes seven core implementation drivers and six implementation stages. This framework was chosen by the Children's Bureau in 2008 and supported by its five child welfare implementation centers to help guide States and Tribes through systems change.

Data for this study were collected from 568 child welfare staff in 13 local agencies and among 12 implementation coaches. Additionally, focus groups and case study interviews were conducted with 52 staff in four agencies. The authors set out to answer the following three questions: 

  1. What is the level and nature of staff/worker buy-in related to the innovation?
  2. Does buy-in vary according to staff characteristics?
  3. What is the relationship between buy-in, local-level agency readiness, and implementation status 1 year after the project's start date?

The authors concluded that agencies with staff who had a higher level of understanding of and belief that the practice model was worthwhile would be more likely to reach implementation, compared to agencies with lower levels of staff buy-in. Results showed that progress was higher among smaller agencies and that staff/worker buy-in across the board was related to specific characteristics such as gender and tenure. Specifically, males and those with tenure of 16 years or more had higher rates of buy-in. Results also showed that workers with lower levels of job stress accelerated implementation, demonstrating the need for agencies to address stress levels among staff as a key barrier to successfully implementing change.

"Who's on Board? Child Welfare Worker Reports of Buy-In and Readiness for Organizational Change," by Julie McCrae, Maria Scannapieco, Robin Leake, Cathryn Potter, and David Menefee, Children and Youth Services Review, 37, 2014, is available for purchase: