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Child welfare researchers explore opportunities, challenges

Dean Marilyn Flynn moderates a meeting of top LA County government officials

Partnering to Prevent Maltreatment & Improve Child Well-being on the West Coast: Innovative Approaches and Multiple Lenses to Knowledge Generation"
A panel discussed the integration of evidenced-based research in a multi-agency child welfare system. (Photo/Ron Sombilon)

In recent years, the USC School of Social Work has partnered with a cross-section of Los Angeles County agencies that impact child well-being, strongly encouraging collaboration and use of evidence-based research to improve outcomes for children.

Because of this collaboration — with USC and other university partners in the region — Los Angeles County has initiated often-time difficult changes and improvements to the child welfare system. Having research to implement change was a key factor.

But such collaboration isn’t without its challenges, Dean Marilyn L. Flynn pointed out, as moderator of a USC-sponsored panel of top government officials involved in child welfare in Los Angeles County.

The mid-year gathering of the Doris Duke Fellowships for the Promotion of Child Well-being is one of two annual opportunities for doctoral candidates of the program to network, share ideas and gain exposure to new innovations and thinking regarding child maltreatment prevention.

Flynn questioned panelists on how universities and their researchers can do a better job of promoting collaboration and research to inform and evaluate programs and policies, as well as improve service.

Panelists reiterated the value of research in driving policy, as well as its importance in helping prepare and energize the next generation of social workers for the future.

Research plays a vital role

Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services Director Phillip Browning cited universities as critical for training and educating social workers, while also pointing out the vital role research plays in that regard.

We’d like to have the evidence-based research that can back up what we’re doing.

Phillip Browning

“Research can really help us … because we’d like to have staff who know and practice their craft in a manner that gets the best result. … We’d like to have the evidence-based research that can back up what we’re doing,” Browning said.

Panelist Fesia Davenport, interim director of the newly created Department of Child Protection in Los Angeles County, cited research and data as critical to the filtering process, especially as her new agency begins to prioritize overarching child welfare strategies.

Moving forward, “we’re going to need justification,” she said, which evidence-based research provides.

Likewise, Chief Probation Officer for Los Angeles County Jerry Powers pointed out how research can be important for prioritization of limited resources.

“We only have a limited pot of money, so we can’t afford to be wrong … if we have a choice between what is proven by research or what ‘might’ be promising, we’re going to go where the research tells us to go,” he said.

But the panel also discussed the challenges of integrating evidenced-based research in a multi-agency child welfare system, particularly one like Los Angeles County’s that is one of the largest in the United States.

Challenges included archaic data systems that don’t allow information sharing and cross-agency analyses, and the need for better and continued data sharing across departments.

Browning also cited the need for stronger communication among agencies to achieve better outcomes.

Communication is the biggest challenge.

Phillip Browning

“Communication is the biggest challenge,” he said.

The Duke fellowship is a two-year program for doctoral candidates administered by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. It currently funds approximately 30 fellows across the nation. Two USC doctoral students have received the fellowship in the past four years, including Megan Finno-Velasquez, who helped organize this year’s meeting.

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Child welfare researchers explore opportunities, challenges

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