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September 2019Vol. 20, No. 7Study Underscores Need to Engage Both Parents in Child Welfare Work for Better Outcomes

Child welfare work that engages both parents is associated with a greater likelihood of positive case outcomes, according to an article published in Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services. The article describes a study that looked at how a New Hampshire agency's intentional efforts to engage both parents in casework affected the outcomes of over 200 cases involving children in both in-home and out-of-home placements.

The parent engagement practices studied included parental involvement in case planning, assessment of parental needs, provision of services to parents, and parental visitation. The research centered on whether efforts were made to engage both parents in child welfare-related activities and, if so, how that affected overall case outcomes. The study analyzed 206 case practice reviews (CPRs) from New Hampshire's child welfare agency. CPR data were collected during week-long onsite reviews using a similar process to the federal Child and Family Services Reviews. The authors note that the goal of the CPR is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each district by focusing on child welfare agency efforts and the associated safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for children and families. To collect CPR data, New Hampshire uses the Onsite Review Instrument (OSRI), which was used by all states in round 2 of the CFSRs. The OSRI provides rating scores regarding case components and caseworker activities for 23 performance-related items.

The article consistently points to improved outcomes in cases where both parents were engaged. For example, when reviewing efforts to ensure parental visitation for cases involving home removal, 84 percent of cases substantially achieved the outcome of maintenance in the home when both parents were engaged as compared with 45 percent of cases in which only one parent was engaged. Additionally, 91 percent of cases where both parents' needs were assessed substantially achieved the outcome of maintenance in the home, as compared with 51 percent of cases involving just one parent. Regarding efforts to provide appropriate services, 91 percent of cases involving both parents substantially achieved the outcome of maintenance in the home, compared with 50 percent of cases when only parent was provided services. When both parents were engaged in case planning, 91 percent of all cases substantially achieved the outcome of continuity of family relationships as compared with 42 percent when just one parent was engaged.

Several of the cases with positive ratings shared common themes, including a consistent effort to locate and engage uninvolved parents, an involvement of family in the decision-making process, and the provision of concrete assistance and targeted services. The authors cite several themes regarding barriers to parent engagement: inconsistent efforts to locate uninvolved parents, logistical challenges (e.g., parental incarceration), and insufficient casework documentation.

"Engaging parents: Assessing child welfare agency onsite review instrument outcomes," by Melissa Wells, Anastasiya Vanyukevych, and Sherri Levesque (Families in Society96), is available at