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Research Questions

  1. What is the best available research evidence for child and family services?
  2. How can decisionmakers without research training make sense of that evidence?

Between 1998 and 2014, the Promising Practices Network (PPN) on Children, Families and Communities website (www.promisingpractices.net) provided information on programs and practices that credible research indicated are effective in improving outcomes for children, youth, and families. This document was originally published as part of PPN's Issue Brief series, and it is intended to help PPN visitors understand some of the variation in how the field of child and family services defines "best available research evidence." The authors describe the history of evidence-based practices and review varying definitions of them, comparing the PPN criteria with those from other organizations.

While the specifics may differ, substantial similarities remain across resources for evidence-based practices in the requirements for a program to be labeled "evidence-based," "proven," a "model program," and so on. In making their judgments, some resources rely exclusively on very detailed and explicit requirements for each of the criteria, while others also employ expert judgment from a review panel. Strong research evidence on what works to improve outcomes in child and family services has proliferated in the past decade and a half, along with resources on evidence-based practices to help policymakers and others evaluate the burgeoning research. While there is debate on what constitutes an evidence-based practice, definitions have a number of evidence criteria in common. Decisionmakers can use resources such as PPN and others discussed in this document to identify evidence-based practices.

Key Finding

The Volume of Research Has Yielded Mostly Similar Definitions

  • Strong research evidence on what works to improve outcomes in the field of child and family services has proliferated in the past decade and a half, along with resources on evidence-based practices to help policymakers and others evaluate the burgeoning research. The growth in the quantity of research and resources has resulted in a multitude of definitions regarding what qualifies as "evidence." While there is debate on what constitutes an EBP, definitions have a number of evidence criteria in common.

Recommendation

  • Decisionmakers can use resources such as PPN and others discussed in this document to identify evidence-based practices. PPN supports this process by providing a list of Other Reviewed Programs along with programs reviewed in-house so that users can find "current best evidence" on programs.

This research was conducted in RAND Education, a unit of the RAND Corporation.

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