Evaluating improvements in casework practice

An evaluation of Practice First, a major reform initiative in the New South Wales child welfare sector, has found that the model made a difference to organisational culture and casework practice.

Practice First was designed for statutory child protection work, ranging from assessment through to out-of-home care. The model incorporates strategies to strengthen caseworker skills and capability, and reduce administrative burden.

Caseworkers reported that spending more time with families aided assessment, decision making, and relationships with families. Practice First helped workers improve their engagement with children, carers and other agencies. It also strengthened the focus on child-centred practice. One parent receiving the service even noted: 'My case worker now is solution-focused and knows when to bring up issues'.

Commissioned by the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), the evaluation was led by the Parenting Research Centre in partnership with the University of Melbourne and the Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

‘The evaluation is critical to understanding how an innovative approach to child protection practice and reform can be improved,’ said Parenting Research Centre Director, Ms Annette Michaux.

‘A crucial factor in the successful implementation of new ways of working is combining practical lessons from service delivery systems with insights from community leaders and families. The evaluation suggests that the adaptive capacity of services can lead to improvements in practice and in staff satisfaction and turnover.’

The evaluation was conducted with 24 FACS Community Service Centres in New South Wales. There is evidence that some of the principles behind Practice First have started to influence practice in non‐Practice First sites. But as there are other reform initiatives in the state, it is difficult to separate out the effects of Practice First independently within this context. This presents an opportunity to further develop Practice First as a solid platform to implement evidence-based practice in child protection services.