AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

TAG | child welfare

Hi!  We are Melissa Strompolis and Suzanne Sutphin.  Melissa is a Research Associate at the Center for Child and Family Studies (CCFS) in the College of Social Work at The University of South Carolina.  Suzanne is a Research Assistant Professor at CCFS.  We are both evaluators of South Carolina’s Child and Family Services Review (CFSR).  The review aims to ensure conformity to federal child welfare requirements, help states achieve positive outcomes, and capture the experiences of individuals receiving child welfare services.  We evaluate the state’s conformity to federal requirements using the CFSR Review Instrument, which measures outcomes related to safety, permanency, and well-being.  The last outcome, well-being, is a topic on which we would like to share our experience and advice.

Lesson Learned: Measuring Well-Being. The CFSR Review Instrument identifies three outcomes of child and family well-being. First, families should have the enhanced capacity to provide for their children. This is measured by assessing the needs of and providing services to children and families, involving the child and family in case planning, and visiting with the children and families. Second, children should receive appropriate services to meet their educational needs. Finally, children should receive adequate services to meet their physical and mental health needs.

The CFSR definition of well-being varies greatly from other definitions of well-being.  Some measures of well-being include all or parts of physical, economic, social, emotional, and psychological well-being; development and activity; life satisfaction; domain specific satisfaction; and engaging activities and work.  As such, the measurement and implications that can be drawn from data collected on well-being will also vary greatly.  The definition of well-being from the CFSR has led to some important lessons learned.

Lessons Learned:

1)     We need to be aware of what it is we are actually measuring.  The CFSR Review Instrument measures three well-being outcomes, however, states do not have a standard practice for navigating and assessing efforts to achieve well-being.  This can be problematic for making state- and national-level comparisons.

2)     We need to accurately report our measure of well-being in scholarly activities. This allows other researchers to use the same measures so that data can be compared across studies.

3)     We need to advocate for the usage of empirically validated measures of well-being.  Our rad resource below provides a great example for measuring child well-being.

Rad Resource: Check out The Foundation for Child Development’s Child Well-Being Index which is widely used in child well-being research. The index measures seven dimensions of child well-being: family economic well-being, health, safe/risky behavior, education attainment, community engagement, social relationships, and emotional/spiritual well-being.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating CP TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community Psychology Topical Interest Group. The contributions all week come from CP TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to


My name is Virginia Dick and I am currently public service evaluation faculty at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. Most of my work focuses on assisting state and local government agencies, and other university divisions, with evaluation of programs, policies and systems.

As part of my role I often find myself working with a wide range of individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, purposes, and information assessment styles. It has been important to find ways to help different groups examine and understand relevant evaluation data using a wide range of mechanisms.

Most recently, I have begun working with our state child welfare agency to use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) methods to examine child welfare client characteristics and outcomes spatially through mapping. Often key stakeholders (community members, agency leadership, and social work students) have expressed new and interesting perspectives and interpretations of the data when it is portrayed via mapping rather than in traditional charts and tables.

Rad Resource: ESRI ( often provides free training and educational opportunities to work with their mapping software and may be available through some universities.

There are many open source software options out there, some of which I am currently working with at the University of Georgia Information Technology Outreach Service to explore with my current project. A list of open source options is available at:

Hot Tip: When working with a group reviewing the data and relationships between variables, start with a few layers and options on the map and slowly build and add additional components as the individuals start to become more comfortable talking about the relationships between the different variables.

Hot Tip: By looking at census tracts as units it allows groups to discuss the relationship between variables without having to dig down to the individual street address level which can become much more complicated when compiling the maps. Often analysis at the census tract level can be most beneficial to communities and government agencies rather than the individual street address level.

Hot Tip: Let the stakeholders generate the ideas and discussion among themselves to get the richest information about the perceived relationship between variables. This is particularly useful when looking at small units such as counties or smaller (with the mapping done at the census tract or block level).

Want to learn more about Virginia’s work using GIS? Come to the poster exhibition on Wednesday evening in San Antonio this November for AEA’s Annual Conference.

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