Phase 4

Evaluate and Review Your Work

Social workers conduct both process evaluations and outcome evaluations.

Process Evaluation

A process (formative) evaluation documents and analyzes the early conceptualization of the intervention. Were the interventions proposed to the client 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 (e.g. whether the anger management class “worked”).

Outcome Evaluation

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. As this example illustrates, process and outcome evaluations often go together; only if we know whether an intervention was implemented was intended (or what modifications were made) can we accurately evaluate the impact of the design.

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 achievement of goals. Such iterative inquiry facilitates adjustment, when interventions are not yielding desired results, and allows social workers to incorporate clients’ perspectives throughout the evaluation.

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 than 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. Sometimes, external events, including those that could not be readily anticipated, interfere and reduce the likelihood of goal attainment. 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 that there is some form of help in the community for her. (These are critical assumptions that 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. As a result, Emilia’s recovery process, while a welcome development on some levels, introduces new strains for the family and new uncertainties for Joey.

Does this turmoil indicate that Emilia’s goal of recovery from substance use disorder was not a good one? No! 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 enters 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. 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 in recovery 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 outcomes for the Sanchez family as a whole and/or the family member that you have worked with as a client in this case study.

Intervention Evaluation

After reviewing your notes about your intervention plan, identify measures that you would use to determine whether your client’s goals have been reached or not. Speculate on the degree to which your client would be able to reach the goals.

Evaluate the extent to which you believe your practice was culturally sensitive. Can you identify specific uses of culturally sensitive knowledge and skills in your work on the Sanchez case?

My Evaluate Tasks

Task 1

Review your notes, assessments, questions, and intervention suggestions.

Task 2

As you proceed with the evaluation, include both process and outcome variables that you think would effectively measure processes and outcomes for this case.

Task 3

Then, take a moment for reflection. What are some of your professional strengths? What tasks or skills might be more difficult for you? What will you continue to learn, as you prepare not only to practice, but also to evaluate that practice, for continual growth?