One approach to identifying valuable research is through systematic review. According to the Campbell Collaboration website, "… the purpose of a systematic review is to sum up the best available research on a specific question. A systematic review uses transparent procedures to find, evaluate and synthesize the results of relevant research. Procedures are explicitly defined in advance, in order to ensure that the exercise is transparent and can be replicated. This practice is also designed to minimize bias.
Studies included in a review are screened for quality, so that the findings of a large number of studies can be combined."1
The evidence base derived from systematic reviews is somewhat sparse for the social work and child welfare fields, although there are several published reviews on such topics as independent living programs, financial benefits for low-income families, multi- systemic therapy and kinship care. This type of knowledge is a great resource for child welfare agencies. According to Wells (2009), it "can enhance the impact and value of social care and help policy makers, clinicians and consumers make informed choices.” Systematic reviews are especially relevant given the enormous time constraints faced by child welfare practitioners, in that the best available evidence on a given intervention is accessible from a singular and credible source.
A useful resource on child welfare research is the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse on Child Welfare, http://www.cachildwelfareclearinghouse.org/, which was developed by the Office of Child Abuse Prevention in California. This Clearinghouse is organized by program, by child welfare problem or by population. Each program is rated on its scientific evidence and its relevance to child welfare (if the available research on a program has not been done with child welfare involved children and families). There are also sections on assessment instruments, implementation and useful background on why evidence-based child welfare practice is important.
For certain research, in addition to systematic reviews, there are a number of studies that are most recognized in the child welfare field versus other fields. The largest and only truly nationally representative study of child welfare services is the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW). The first NSCAW study followed more than 5,000 children in more than 90 counties for five years to understand their measurable educational, health and behavioral outcomes. This study is now being repeated with a refreshed sample. Information about NSCAW is available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/abuse_neglect/nscaw/index.html. This study has had extensive scientific review and is the study that has received the most funding of all child welfare studies ever conducted.
Other ways to determine whether research is valuable is whether or not the study has been vetted through a peer review process or whether it has been published in a journal. Research that is subject to the judgment and evaluation of one’s peers is an important factor in engaging other agency staff and stakeholders in valuing the research. This identification/review process will also assist agency leaders in avoiding duplication through an inventory of existing resources to learn about other valuable related
research being done in a specific area.