Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Social Work

Abstract

The foster care system was designed to be a temporary placement for children when their parents are unable or unwilling to provide proper care and supervision. A permanency plan must be established for all children in care, stating clear goals for a permanent living arrangement to facilitate the child's reunification with his/her family. The current Illinois Child Welfare Practice Model promotes a family-centered, trauma-informed, and strength-based practice approach when providing child welfare services to families in foster care with the caseworker serving as the primary vehicle for facilitating change.

This study explored how this child welfare practice model is reflected in visitation services for families whose goal is reunification, as well as to explore the support and resources for caseworkers to provide visitation services within this practice model. This study used a mixed method design that included 20 in-depth interviews to caseworkers and 44 surveys to child welfare supervisors working for foster care state agencies.

The study results showed that despite caseworker's commitment to the child welfare field and intention to empower families, they count on resources that are not adequate to perform the expected activities associated with their demanding workloads. The study results indicate that caseworkers receive limited training and preparation for responding to visitation challenges, which increases the likelihood that they base their decisions on personal experience and beliefs, rather than on established best practice standard for safety assessment and intervention. The study highlights the need for a significant organizational shift in which visitation is viewed as a powerful tool for reunification and as a human and legal right for parents. The study findings suggested that this change may be possible by redirecting or increasing supports for visitation through training, professional consultation, and the creation of evidence-based clinical practice visitation guidelines.

The study findings also indicate the need for continued qualitative research to fully examine the complex psychological and interpersonal processes involved in parent visitation with children in foster care. Additionally, there is the necessity to explore the psychological and interpersonal challenges for child welfare workers when providing visitation services. Implications for child welfare policies, as well as, social work practice with families involved with the child welfare system were also discussed based on these findings.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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