Current and future members of the child welfare workforce need to have access to useful and trusted information, resources, and services. However, the ways in which child welfare professionals access information are rapidly changing, and the technologies and types of resources that are most useful are evolving for a digital age. With so many options and so much information competing for limited time and attention, information clearinghouses and technical assistance providers must understand and respond to the changing needs and preferences of a diverse workforce to help child welfare professionals better support the children, families, and communities they serve.
The goal of the National Child Welfare Information Study—conducted by Child Welfare Information Gateway and funded by the Children’s Bureau—is to better understand how child welfare professionals working in State and local child welfare agencies, with Tribes, and in courts search for, access, and share information. Ultimately, this study seeks to support the enhanced design and reach of information, resources, and services for agency administrators, program managers, supervisors and caseworkers, judges and attorneys, and future members of the child welfare workforce so that they are more accessible, consumable, useful, and effective for improving child welfare practice.
The National Child Welfare Information Study targeted four distinct audiences:
- Child welfare professionals working in State, local, and private agencies
- Child welfare professionals working with Tribes
- Legal and judicial professionals that work in child welfare (hereafter referred to as “legal
- Students in graduate or undergraduate social work programs who are likely to enter the child
welfare field (hereafter referred to as “students”)
To ensure the study design and instruments were informed by child welfare researchers, technical experts, communication specialists, and stakeholders in the field, the study team formed two types of stakeholder groups: a Technical Workgroup (TWG) composed of experts in child welfare systems, issues, policies, technology, communications, and research methodologies; and four Organizational Stakeholder Groups (OSGs) representing each of the target respondent audiences. Respondents were invited to participate in the study through a variety of channels, including through the agencies for which they worked, through intermediary organizations such as professional associations, and through contacts at university social work programs. Because of the different contexts of each of the four audiences, the study team individualized recruitment approaches and used multiple methods to maximize response.
- For child welfare professionals working in both public and private settings, the study team targeted a representative and geographically diverse sample to ensure greater external validity of study findings. The study team identified and recruited an intentional sample of six States of varying population sizes and representing diverse geographic regions. Recruitment commenced with outreach to the State agency director through an official invitation from the Children’s Bureau and Child Welfare Information Gateway and then varied individually based on State context.
- For legal professionals and child welfare professionals working with Tribes, organizational partners—including those participating in the OSGs—disseminated tailored information about the study through membership newsletters, listservs, social media, and event-based distribution of fliers (e.g., at conferences). Some organizational partners also distributed a brief informational video.
- To recruit students, the study team worked with the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute, university contacts, and the Children’s Bureau to create a list of program contacts for title IV-E stipend programs and supplemented it with an additional list of professional contacts at university programs. The study team then invited programs to participate in an informational webinar about the study and partner with the study team to facilitate recruitment of students in their programs through email, text, social media, and online learning management systems.
To supplement survey data, focus groups and interviews were conducted to gather additional detailed and contextual information about the ways in which child welfare professionals access, receive, and share information. Across the four audiences of interest, a total of 4,134 respondents took the survey, and 82 professionals and students participated in focus groups and interviews.
Survey data are expected to be available for secondary analysis later in 2020, through the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN) data archiving repository. These data will be freely available to analysts, along with a codebook and user’s guide that will explicate this data collection effort for secondary users of the data.