Learn about the types of evaluation below, and then begin by reviewing your Notebook.
Social workers conduct both process evaluations and outcome evaluations.
A process (formative) evaluation documents and analyzes the early conceptualization of the intervention. Were the interventions proposed to the client actually implemented as intended? This is a process question. For example, as a requirement for regaining custody of a child, a parent is remanded to an anger management class. Did that parent actually complete the class? That is a process question. It does NOT address the larger question of whether the child’s safety and well-being improved. Process evaluation, then, allows the social worker to make note of progress, or milestones.
Outcome (Summative) Evaluation is concerned with results. Did the intervention enable the desired change? Looking again at a parent required to take an anger management class in order to regain custody of a child, the summative evaluation addresses the question of whether or not the class improved the child’s safety and well-being, which were the ultimate goals of the intervention.
Evaluate during the entire process.
Although evaluation is presented here as the last step in the social work change process, you are likely to be evaluating any case in your practice throughout the process. Good social workers continuously monitor progress toward the acheivement of goals.
Clients may not reach all their established goals, for several reasons. For example, if the goal is more a reflection of what you think is best for a client then what the client wants to achieve, then the outcome is likely to be disappointing. Also, some goals are too big and daunting to achieve all at once and need to be broken down into smaller, more achievable steps. Goals may also fail because they were too easy. That is, they may not engage clients or other participants, who therefore do not bother to work toward them. Obviously, evaluation depends on carefully constructed goals. Good goals are ones that are difficult enough to be challenging, but easy enough to be achievable. They must also reflect the client's desires, so that they are intrinsically motivating.
Let us assume, for a moment, that one of the short-term goals of the Sanchez family is getting drug treatment for Emilia Sanchez. For our purposes here, let us also assume that Emilia is ready to go into treatment and is motivated to be substance-free and that there is some form of help in the community for her. (These are critical assumptions, and all of them must be explored.) Let us also assume that Emilia meets her goal and successfully completes treatment. She then returns to her parents’ house and asserts that she wants to resume a parenting role in Joey’s (her son’s) life. At this point, however, his grandparents have effectively become his parents and are in the process of adopting him. To him, Emilia is merely a stranger who wants him to call her mother, and her sudden appearance deeply upsets both him and his grandparents.
Does this turmoil indicate that Emilia’s goal of recovery from substance abuse was not a good one? No, it was a laudable goal! It does indicate, however, that meeting goals can have ramifications. Good social workers must think ahead about these ramifications. This sort of problem is not uncommon in families where one member successfully completes recovery. And, in fact, failure to anticipate this sort of problem can hasten relapse. The social worker is not responsible for the relapse but does need to be thinking ahead about all the supports that a recovering client will need to remain sober. A supportive family is one of them. Thus, meeting with the client and family in advance and discussing the roles that each member can fulfill once recovery is completed might be a good idea. This is but one example of the ways in which the unintended consequences of successful goal achievement can create other problems if their potential is not foreseen in advance.
As you can see, good practice is inextricably linked with practice evaluation. Evaluation allows you to see more clearly where the process started and where it still needs to go, as well as to measure your own effectiveness. It also allows you to figure out which of your skills need improvement.
Now it’s your turn. Evaluate the intervention process and the outcome for the Sanchez family as a whole or the family member that you have worked with as a client in this case study.
My Evaluate Tasks
- Perform an evaluation of your work in this case by first opening your notebook.
- Review your notes, recommendations, assessments, and intervention suggestions.
- After reviewing your notes and answering the questions, proceed with the evaluation.
- Include both process and outcome variables that you think would effectively measure processes and outcomes for this case.
- Once you have completed the evaluation phase, answered all the questions, and printed out your work, take a moment for reflection.
- Based on this process, what are some of your professional strengths? What tasks or skills might be more difficult for you?