Family empowerment in public child welfare: an exploratory study of organizational culture as a barrier to implementation
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Despite findings that public child welfare systems typically serve disempowered populations, no clear and explicit agenda to empower families is readily identifiable. In fact, over the last several years, child welfare researchers and reformers have advocated for the implementation of evidence-based and promising practice models that emphasize empowerment and have been found to contribute to the improvement of outcomes for families. Yet, this has not happened on the scale recommended. Historically, the system has struggled to adequately engage and empower families. In addition, child welfare employees themselves have reported negative views of the system and the effectiveness of their work (Zell, 2006) and organizational culture has been cited as a potential barrier to empowerment-based work (Hur, 2006). But previous research has not focused on workers' perspectives of family empowerment and how these workers understand the role of organizational culture in the adoption of a family empowerment approach. This qualitative research study fills these existing gaps in the literature. Data are collected from a total of 30 public child welfare workers and supervisors and 10 child welfare-involved caregivers in four counties in a mid-Western state. Child welfare workers and supervisors share their views concerning the use of family empowering interventions and their perspectives on the public child welfare system's readiness to change toward adoption of a family empowerment approach. The child welfare-involved family members also share their experiences with empowering interventions implemented within their county. The study combines a theory-driven and grounded theory approach, and leads to major findings regarding (a) a reliance on relational approaches to family empowerment, (b) the primacy of the child protective mission over family empowerment and (c) perspectives on change and responsiveness within public child welfare. Grounded theory analysis results in the development of a theoretical model of family empowerment in public child welfare, which highlights organizational leadership as the core factor that influences public child welfare agencies' implementation of family empowerment approaches. The findings suggest that the leader's values and management style are central in determining organizational direction and focus, and are therefore important for understanding worker approaches and ultimately, intervention with families.