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March 2016Vol. 17, No. 1Selecting Evidence-Based Practices

The following is the monthly research highlight from the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States, which forms part of the Bureau's Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative. Each article focuses on current and emerging topics in child welfare research.

By Liz Quinn, Research Lead, Capacity Building Center for States

Child welfare research is growing the evidence base for effective interventions and improving practice. As emphasized in a 2012 Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Information Memorandum (PDF - 145 KB), selecting services with evidence of effectiveness can help child welfare agencies improve child, family, and system outcomes. There is more research available about promising and effective interventions than ever before.

Selecting the right evidence-based practice (EBP) can be challenging for child welfare professionals. This article identifies resources that can assist agencies with selecting an EBP.

What is meant by "EBP"?

The term EPB is used in different ways by different organizations. Many identify an EBP as an intervention that has been scientifically tested and shown to be more effective, on average, than an alternative practice or current services. While some definitions are based only on research evidence, other definitions include evaluation findings and the practitioners' clinical (or practice) experience and responsiveness client values.

Where can agencies find information about programs and practices that have been found to be promising or effective?

Numerous clearinghouses and directories can help:

What can help agencies to successfully select the right EBP?

In addition to learning more about interventions that are supported by research, an agency may be more successful identifying and implementing EBP if it includes the following steps:

  • Form a team to lead efforts to gather information from clearinghouses, available literature, program developers, and other experts who have experience with potential interventions.
  • Examine whether specific EBPs have led to outcomes for populations similar to those desired and targeted by the agency.
  • Decide whether EBPs are likely to fit with the agency's existing structure, culture, and the expertise of its workforce.
  • Make sure that the agency has the capacity to consistently implement and sustain the intervention.

What resources are available to guide agencies through this selection process?

Children's Bureau-supported publications such as A Framework to Develop, Test, Spread, and Sustain Effective Practice in Child Welfare (PDF - 807 KB) provide important guidance and context for EBP selection. Websites such as the one hosted by the CEBC offer additional resources to support child welfare professionals with identifying possible EBPs, making decisions about which ones to use, and planning for implementation. Selecting and Implementing Evidence-Based Practices: A Guide for Child and Family Serving Systems (PDF - 5 MB) provides background on EBPs and guidance on implementation. The CEBC Selection Guide for EBPs in Child Welfare (PDF - 24 KB) and the Selection Guide Worksheet (PDF - 333 KB) help identify potential solutions and guide discussion during the selection process.

The Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States offers customized consultation to public child welfare agencies in States and territories on a wide range of topics, including assessing and selecting EBPs. The Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for Tribes offers customized support for title IV-B funded Tribal child welfare agencies interested in establishing or adapting EBPs. Interested in getting help to select an intervention in your State? Contact your Capacity Building Center for States' Liaison. To find contact information for your Liaison, see the map here. Interested in accessing services from the Capacity Building Center for Tribes? Contact Elizabeth Deserly at