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Abstract

Within the social work community there exists an acknowledged need for evaluating the effectiveness of casework services. This need developed and was sustained over time because of pressure exerted by the profession for internal accountability: understanding practice to improve intervention and insure professional growth. But more recently, evaluation endeavors arose from pressure to demonstrate external accountability: the need to prove the validity of casework services. This shift was produced by the change in casework financing from private voluntary contributions to public tax dollars. Claims made in the early 1960's that expansion of casework services could reduce existing, and prevent future, social problems brought governmental funding of service delivery. But, at the same time, receipt of public tax dollars necessitated verification of those claims to justify the increased support. To this end, the number of casework evaluation studies undertaken since 1962 provides evidence of the field's commitment to answering the basic accountability question, "is casework effective?".

Despite the field's apparent commitment and increased use of evaluation research, there has been little impact on our understanding of casework effectiveness. Briar identifies four reasons to explain this phenomenon:

  1. .. .to ignore the research on effectiveness and try to preserve the faith and confidence that once prevailed
  2. .. .that the problem itself is not important
  3. .. .to recognize the research findings but then try to explain them away
  4. ...cynicism and despair associated with a feeling that social workers are useless

In his analysis, Briar correctly describes the field's response to evaluation efforts. However, his analysis (as well as others') fails to identify those dilemmas which help create and maintain the profession's stance toward casework evaluation. To date, no systematic ana!ysis of these dilemmas exists. This article is devoted to that task. While there are no guarantees that identification will lead to eliminating the barriers that prevent adequate evaluation, it seems a necessary first step toward this goal.

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