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What are evidence-based practice models for social services?

January 01, 2021
A man brainstorms how he will use evidence-based practice models on a piece of paper while his colleague looks on.

Due to technological advances, the ability to collect and assess data from human services agencies has improved dramatically over the last two centuries. As a result, evidence-based practice models are becoming more widespread.

Funders, both private foundations and governmental organizations, are starting to insist on the use of evidence-based practices in social work fields. Having a strong understanding of these models will help you keep your public agency or nonprofit organization up-to-date, align with funders’ expectations, and provide the best possible patient outcomes.

Read on to learn more about the components of evidence-based practice models and how they affect your organization’s work.

What is evidence-based practice?

Before exploring the different types of models, it’s important to understand what constitutes an evidence-based practice. According to the National Association of Social Workers, “evidence-based practice (EBP) is a process in which the practitioner combines well-researched interventions with clinical experience, ethics, client preferences, and culture to guide and inform the delivery of treatments and services.”

Because information is more accessible than ever, acquiring evidence is a simple process that prompts a move toward evidence-based approaches. However, evidence-based practice implies more than simply acquiring data. According to the Council on Social Work Education, there are five important steps involved in any evidence-based practice model:

  1. Formulating an individual, community, or policy-related question.
  2. Systematically searching the literature.
  3. Appraising findings for quality and applicability.
  4. Applying these findings and considerations in practice.
  5. Evaluating the results.

This last step is particularly significant because evidence-based practice models must continuously improve to be effective. As a result, each new case should be considered additional evidence and analyzed along with the pre-existing data. This perspective helps social service practices adapt to customers’ changing needs.

The models

There are many evidence-based practice models your agency can leverage to create positive outcomes for your customers. Here are a few models and resources to consider:

  • Stages of Change: Within this model, patients progress through a series of stages, and case managers use the framework to evaluate an individual’s readiness to change. Like other evidence-based practice models, it allows evidence to be taken into account regularly throughout the process. There is an inherent feedback loop that considers patients’ needs and progress.
  • Parents as Teachers (PAT): This model is primarily used for expecting mothers, fathers, and younger children, starting as early as the prenatal stage through kindergarten. PAT uses home visits to promote early development and health for these children by supporting and educating their parents or guardians. It is designed to meet the needs of those who receive federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program funding.
  • PerformWell: PerformWell is an online resource that provides information about performance management to nonprofit professionals and case managers. The website includes information about several evidence-based practice models that agencies can use to improve customer outcomes.

There are many other online tools available to agencies and organizations looking to implement evidence-based practice models. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development is an interactive website that helps organizations identify and fund evidence-based programs. Similarly, Issue Lab by Candid has a collection of practical information to help you build your evaluation capacity and measure results. 

Evidence-based practice models are still new to the social sector, and each day agencies and organizations find new ways to implement them and maximize customer success.  Keep in mind that more models could emerge which offer better standards for implementing evidence-based approaches and adhere to your unique needs. Furthermore, with the widespread use of software like Bonterra Program Management's Case Management solution, the ability to collect and analyze data will continue to improve drastically, enabling even better outcomes for customers and constituents through evidence-based case management.

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    Case Management
  • Human services
  • Nonprofits
  • Public agencies
  • Coordinating social services