Jennifer L. Magnabosco
Throughout history, measuring outcomes has been a goal and priority in the human services. This entry chronicles the history of outcomes measurement in the human services in the United States and discusses present-day outcome measurement activities as well as trends and some of the key areas for outcomes measurement in several human service domains.
J. Christopher Hall
This article presents a history and overview of first- and second-order cybernetics and the ways in which the theories inform models of social work practice. A foundational understanding of cybernetics is crucial for social workers because it forms the groundwork for how models of practice operationalize the ideal counseling relationship and how client problems will be assessed. A first-order approach invites the social worker to begin counseling via an objective assessment derived from a defined theory of normality, whereas a second-order approach suggests that a social worker adopt a curious or not-knowing approach to explore collaboratively with the client to decide how problems will be understood and how solutions to problems may be constructed. These approaches are sometimes differentiated as first-order, or modern, and second-order, or postmodern.
Social work is distinguishable from other disciplines by its emphasis on producing change that affects clients and their environment. This emphasis has influenced the nature of social work practice research, which calls for attention to the development, design, and implementation of change strategies through the use of the science of intervention research. This paper provides a definition of intervention research, highlights its culturally congruent elements, and addresses its implications for social work evidence-based practice and practice guidelines.
Rosalyn M. Bertram
This entry presents frameworks for implementing effective services. When service organizations understand and work through implementation frameworks, programs can achieve targeted fidelity and client outcomes in a sustainable manner while enhancing practitioner competence and confidence, and improving organizational culture and climate. These frameworks should be but are not yet infused throughout social work curricula. They provide a practical and conceptual bridge for supporting effective delivery of evidence-based or empirically informed practices.
Measurement is a fundamentally important component of social work research. This entry briefly covers two important notions in psychometrics: reliability and validity. Reliability concerns errors of measurement, and validity concerns the accuracy of the inferences that are made from scores from a measurement procedure. Both norm-referenced and criterion-referenced measurement procedures are discussed.
Deborah K. Padgett
The term qualitative methods is relatively new. There is no single definition, although they share features in common, that is, flexibility, holism, naturalism, and insider perspectives. Epistemological debates continue among qualitative researchers, and the diverse methodological approaches often reflect the influence of constructivist critiques. The basic approaches—ethnography, grounded theory, case studies, narrative, phenomenological, and action research—are described along with the fundamentals of data collection and analysis, the role of theory, standards for rigor, ethical issues, and social work values. Rapid growth in the popularity of these methods ensures that they will play a key role in the professions' knowledge development in the future.
Enola Proctor and J. Curtis McMillen
Assessing and improving the quality of social services is one of the most pressing concerns for social work practice and research. Practice in nearly every setting is affected by stakeholder expectations that agencies monitor and improve quality. This entry addresses the meaning of the phrase “quality of care” with respect to social work services, considers this topic in relation to quality improvement, quality assurance, and evaluation of services, and points to the research that is needed in order to assess and improve quality.
This entry describes the definition, history, theories, and applications of quantitative methods in social work research. Unlike qualitative research, quantitative research emphasizes precise, objective, and generalizable findings. Quantitative methods are based on numerous probability and statistical theories, with rigorous proofs and support from both simulated and empirical data. Regression analysis plays a paramountly important role in contemporary statistical methods, which include event history analysis, generalized linear modeling, hierarchical linear modeling, propensity score matching, and structural equation modeling. Quantitative methods can be employed in all stages of a scientific inquiry ranging from sample selection to final data analysis.
This entry defines Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) and puts them in an historical context. It provides an understanding of the distinction between efficacy and effectiveness RCTs and explains why effectiveness trials are more relevant to social work interventions. The strengths and limitations of RCTs that use experimental designs are delineated. It discusses the reporting requirements of RCTs by the standards of the CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials).. It also presents the controversies of social workers in the use of RCTs.. Current health services research emphasizes evidence-based practices, research on comparative effectiveness, and using dissemination and implementation research to understand the gaps between empirically supported interventions and the services that are offered in routine care. RCTs have emerged as a central methodology in all of these efforts. Social workers, therefore, need to be knowledgeable and engage in these efforts.
Steven L. McMurtry, Susan J. Rose, and Lisa K. Berger
Accurate measurement is essential for effective social work practice, but doing it well can be difficult. One solution is to use rapid assessment instruments (RAIs), which are brief scales that typically require less than 15 minutes to complete. Some are administered by practitioners, but most are self-administered on paper or electronically. RAIs are available for screening, initial assessment, monitoring of service progress, and outcome evaluation. Some require author permission, others are sold commercially, and many more are free and in the public domain. Selection of an RAI should be based first on its psychometric strength, including content, concurrent, and known-groups validity, as well as on types of reliability such as internal consistency, but practical criteria such as readability are also important. And when used in practice settings, RAIs should be part of a well-rounded measurement plan that also includes behavioral observations, client logs, unobtrusive measures, and other approaches.
Tony Tripodi and Marina Lalayants
This entry reviews the state of social work research from the appearance of the social work research overview in the previous encyclopedia to the early 2010s. Social work research is defined, and its purposes, contents, training, location, and auspices are briefly discussed. Continuing issues and developments, as well as the emerging developments of evidence-based practice, practice-based research, cultural competence, and international social work research, are featured.
Joan Levy Zlotnik
An important attribute of a profession is the systematic study of its practices, to continually advance its service modalities. Throughout its history the social work profession has engaged in research and sought to strengthen connections between research and practice. National social work organizations and federal agencies, especially the National Institute of Mental Health, have all played key roles in stimulating and assessing the research enterprise. International and interdisciplinary research, advanced research methods and research/practitioner/community partnerships provide perspective for future efforts.
This entry reviews the uses of scales and instruments in social work practice, including scales and instruments for diagnosis and evidencing treatment necessity, as methods for monitoring client progress, and as outcomes measures of clinical significance. A resource list for locating scales and instruments is provided.
Joel Fischer and John G. Orme
Single-system designs (SSDs) are a family of user-friendly empirical procedures that can be used to help professionals to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the services they provide to clients and to guide practice. SSDs can be used to evaluate interventions based on any theory or approach. Repeated measurement of the target(s) of intervention is an intrinsic and key element of SSDs. Dozens of SSDs exist, and each has its own strengths and limitations. The most basic and most widely used design is the A-B design. Data from SSDs are analyzed visually, using simple, descriptive or inferential statistics, or using criteria for practical or clinical significance.
Paula T. Morelli and Jon Kei Matsuoka
Social impact assessment (SIA) is the process of analyzing (predicting, evaluating and reflecting) and managing the intended and unintended consequences on the human environment of planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, and projects) and any social change processes brought into play by those interventions so as to bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment (Vanclay, 2002). This subfield of impact assessment attempts to identify future consequences of a current or proposed action related to individuals, organizations and social macro-systems. SIA is policy-oriented social research often referred to as ex-ante evaluation, which involves pre-testing actions/interventions, or analyzing consequences.
Tomi Gomory and Daniel Dunleavy
Social work is perhaps most distinctive for its clear and outspoken commitment toward improving the well-being of society’s vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, while still emphasizing the importance of respecting and defending personal rights and freedoms. Though there is a fundamental necessity for coercion, or its threat, for eliciting civil social behavior in a well-functioning society, it is professionally and ethically imperative that social workers make explicit our rationales for, justifications of, and the evidence used to support or reject coercive practices in our work. Social work’s engagement with coercion inevitably entails the ethical and social policy arguments for and against its use, as shown in a review of the empirical evidence regarding its impact on the professions’ clients, exemplified by three domains: (1) child welfare, (2) mental health, and (3) addictions. Recommendations for future improvements involve balancing the potential for harm against the benefits of coercive actions.
James E. Lubben
Social work doctoral education in the U.S. commenced almost 100 years ago. Although initial growth was slow, the number of universities offering doctoral degrees in social work has rapidly grown over the last 25 years. During this time, the Group to Advance Doctoral Education (GADE) in social work has fostered excellence. There is considerable variation in program emphasis. Financial support for doctoral education in social work appears to be growing along with employment opportunities for graduates. Emerging trends and issues will pose major challenges for doctoral education in social work.
David E. Biegel and Susan Yoon
Research education at the bachelor’s and master’s levels has attempted to address concerns related to students’ purported lack of interest in research courses and graduates’ failure to conduct research as practitioners. Research education at the doctoral level has benefitted from a significant increase in the number of faculty members with federally funded research grants, although the quality of doctoral research training across programs is uneven. A continuum of specific objectives for research curricula at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels is needed to lead to clearer specifications of research knowledge and skills that should be taught in all schools of social work.
This article provides an overview and analysis of social work education and professional standards in Australia. The professional education and practice standards are set and monitored by a single, professional body, the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). In Australia, there is no legislation protecting the title of social worker, and there is limited government involvement in regulating educational standards and professional practice. In this article, I outline the characteristics of the educational and professional standards for social workers set by the AASW. I will explain the Australian regulatory environment for health and human service professions and discuss how this contributes to conditions in which the AASW plays a central role in the regulation of social work education and practice standards in Australia. I will outline the opportunities and challenges posed by the highly deregulated environment and the consequent central role of the AASW in standard setting and monitoring. The article concludes with a discussion of the strategies currently being pursued via the AASW to achieve government authorized regulation of social workers.
Toby Weismiller and Tracy Whitaker
A profession’s ability to identify and predict its workforce capacity depends largely upon its understanding of labor-market trends and emerging service-delivery systems. Concerns about the adequacy of the future supply of the social work workforce are being driven by a number of factors, including trends in social work education and demographic shifts in the country. The stability and continuity of a social work workforce depends on the profession’s ability to attract new workers, agencies’ abilities to retain their staffs, and the larger society’s investment in this pool of workers and the clients they serve.