Fidelity Review Helps Keep Child Welfare Programs Strong

April 3, 2019 | Sierra Fischer and Phil Decter

Group of Kids in Park

Child protection agencies invest a significant amount of time and resources in deciding which programs, services, and tools to adopt in order to meet the needs of their clients. However, even the best programs won’t help agencies reach their goals of promoting children’s safety, permanency, and well-being if they are not implemented as intended and carried out with fidelity in the agency’s day-to-day practice.

This is where fidelity reviews can make a difference. Exploring fidelity helps agencies understand which parts of a program or innovation were implemented as intended and which parts have been adapted and why. This leads to agencies discerning what they need to change to improve fidelity to the model or what changes need to be made to the innovation or model itself.

A number of reasons may contribute to a child protection agency’s struggles with fidelity. These include:

  • Lack of funding
  • Competing priorities
  • Changing circumstances
  • Policy drift and myth
  • Public and media scrutiny
  • A case management system that is difficult to change
  • Caseload/workload

Conversely, plenty of potential solutions exist for restoring fidelity once a review is carried out. These include:

  • Updating policy
  • Providing new training and coaching
  • The provision of support by agency leadership
  • Developing new communication materials
  • Making changes to the innovation
  • Doing more research
  • Talking to families and staff

Research has found that higher fidelity is related to better program outcomes.1 The process of fidelity review is an effective strategy for reflecting on current case practice and finding the best way to implement innovative services to meet the needs of children and families. This process can be done prior to a full-scale evaluation.

We will present a workshop at the upcoming Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) conference on the topic of fidelity review. We will discuss fidelity review design and process steps and findings around the major factors in decision making at key decision points. While this presentation will focus on implementation of the Structured Decision Making® model, fidelity reviews can be applied to other programs or models. Those attending the workshop will learn key questions to ask to assess fidelity and potential barriers and solutions to address gaps in fidelity. If you plan to attend the conference, please join us at this workshop!

NCCD staff members Sierra Fischer and Phil Decter will present “From Research to Practice: Casework Decision-Making at the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services” at the CWLA 2019 National Conference in Washington, DC, April 9–13. Learn more about the conference here. Learn more about the Structured Decision Making® model for child protection here.


1 Durlak, J. A., & DuPre, E. P. (2008). Implementation matters: A review of research on the influence of implementation on program outcomes and the factors affecting implementation. American Journal of Community Psychology, 41, 327–350.