Understanding Predictors of Family Engagement: An Examination of Worker Characteristics
Thomas, Krista A.
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Child welfare leaders have endeavored to make child welfare systems more strengths-based, family-centered, and responsive to families. One example is the growing popularity of differential response (DR). DR is an approach that provides child welfare agencies with additional flexibility in how they address screened-in reports of child maltreatment, depending on the severity of the allegation and additional case circumstances. Within jurisdictions using DR, cases involving more serious allegations are typically assigned to a traditional investigative response (IR). Cases exhibiting less risk to the child may be assigned to a non-investigation pathway often called the alternative response (AR). The goal of this study was to test whether certain caseworker characteristics and/or pathway assignment contributed to increased levels of primary caregiver engagement with AR-eligible families. Methods. Secondary data from two sites implementing DR were analyzed. The first site included 5 counties in Colorado (n=85; 1387). The second site was the state of Illinois (n=153; 1781). Both sites employed a randomized controlled trial design, where AR-eligible families were randomly assigned to the AR or IR pathways. Descriptive analyses, bivariate correlations, t-tests, ANOVA, and chi-squares were used to describe the AR and IR caseworkers and test the differences between them. Multi-level modeling was used to test what variables functioned as predictors of caregiver engagement. Results: In most instances, caseworker characteristics were not significant predictors of caregiver engagement. In Colorado, a significant negative relationship was observed between caseworker interpersonal skill level and negative engagement at last meeting (t(29) = -3.47, p = .002). In Illinois, a significant moderating effect due to pathway assignment was observed between caseworker work focus and beliefs and positive engagement at first meeting (t(196) = -2.56, p = .011) and negative engagement at last meeting (t(91) = 2.21, p = .030). Unexpectedly, relations were enhanced in the IR pathway rather than the AR pathway. Implications: Findings suggest that further research is needed to better understand whether the AR model is a superior mechanism for positively engaging families. The study reaffirms the complexity of the engagement construct, including how it is understood by researchers and practitioners and challenges connected to its measurement.
caseworker values and beliefs
hierarchical linear modeling