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February 2022Vol. 23., No. 1Evaluating Family Engagement in Child Welfare

A new brief from the Children's Bureau, Evaluating Family Engagement in Child Welfare: A Primer for Evaluators on Key Issues in Definition, Measurement, and Outcomes, discusses key issues evaluators may encounter when assessing family engagement practices and programs aimed at encouraging the meaningful involvement of family and youth in every step of the child welfare decision-making process.

The brief presents an overview of what defines family engagement in a child welfare context and features models of family engagement. According to the brief, family engagement is more than just compliance with child welfare-related obligations, such as attending therapy and case plan meetings. Family engagement requires interactive and interpersonal communication among family members and between families and child welfare staff. Models of meaningful family engagement center on interaction at the case, peer, and system levels.  

According to the brief, evaluating family engagement programs and practices requires measuring engagement and finding ways to assess whether genuine engagement has occurred. Genuine engagement can be measured by assessing the collaborative relationship between parents and caseworkers, parent behavior and compliance, and whether caseworkers used collaborative engagement practices when working with the families in their caseloads.  

The brief concludes with a discussion about methodological and conceptual issues evaluators may encounter when evaluating family engagement efforts, such as the following:

  • The child welfare field still lacks an accepted definition of family engagement.
  • The mechanism through which engagement impacts outcomes is not yet fully understood.
  • Bias may shape perceptions of engagement.
  • More work is needed to understand the engagement of fathers.