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Canadian children come into contact with youth protection services across the country, and some 50,000 of them spend time removed from their homes “in care.” And the sad truth is that most child welfare authorities in Canada are unable to report the most basic information about how these children are doing. Why this is so does not concern Dr. Nico Trocmé. But the “how” and “what” certainly does. He wants to know how information about these children and about current child welfare interventions can be made available so that effective programs can be created that really do help them.

Owen Egan



Mobilizing Knowledge


In 2005, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) set up a pilot program entitled Knowledge Impact in Society (KIS). It is designed to support knowledge mobilization, which SSHRC defines as “moving knowledge into active service for the broadest possible good.”1 McGill professor Dr. Nico Trocmé is one of the first scholars to receive a grant under this program. He is leading McGill in a knowledge mobilization partnership with the Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, a Montreal-based, anglophone child welfare agency. As funding agencies become increasingly concerned about knowledge mobilization, ORO expects that the day will come when it is actually a part of the agencies’ scoring process. In view of this, ORO met with Dr. Trocmé to discuss the role of knowledge mobilization in his work. This profile is based on that interview. 1 2

Dr. Trocmé is the Philip Fisher Chair in Social Work at McGill’s School of Social Work and Director of the Centre for Research on Children and Families (CRCF). His abiding passion is children, and his enthusiasm when he talks about how they may be best served is palpable. As one of Canada’s foremost child welfare researchers, Dr. Trocmé has been, and continues to be, instrumental in improving child welfare policies across the country. His research, he explains, revolves “around two simple questions: How are abused and neglected children, especially those who are receiving child protection services, doing? And what kinds of services and policies can lead to better outcomes for these children?”2 Fuelled by his five-year frontline experience as a social worker and tempered by his subsequent years of academic study, Dr. Trocmé works to resolve these questions by collecting and analyzing child welfare statistics in order to support evidence-based policymaking. Over the last several years, he has added knowledge mobilization to his stated objectives, as in the case of the Trocmé, Nico; all quotations unless otherwise indicated come from conversations and emails exchanged with Dr. Nico Trocmé

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aforementioned Batshaw-McGill knowledge mobilization project, since he understands that research findings have the potential of benefiting not only academics and students but also policy makers and business leaders, among others. KNOWLEDGE MOBILIZATION

According to Craig McNaughton, Director of Knowledge Mobilization and Program Integration at SSHRC, knowledge mobilization is a priority. SSHRC’s objectives are to “facilitate and enable the accessibility and impact of research by increasing and enhancing the flow of research knowledge among

or development) as well as on child welfare policy and legislative reforms in Alberta and Ontario.4 DREAM COME TRUE

The question of where to house the reams of invaluable data emerging from the CIS has been solved by an infrastructure grant from CFI’s Leaders Opportunity Fund to set up the Canadian Child Welfare Data Lab (CCW Data Lab). Located in Wilson Hall at McGill’s Centre for Research on Children and Families, the data lab is a researcher’s dream come true. It is designed to provide a timely response to

Knowledge mobilization involves “moving knowledge into active service for the broadest possible good.” – SSHRC and between researchers and knowledge ‘users’; improve research connections by facilitating reciprocal relationships between researchers and knowledge users for the (co-) creation and use of research knowledge; and, enhance the quality of this work by developing networks, tools and best practices.”3 CHILD WELFARE SURVEY

Knowledge mobilization in one form or another has long been part of Dr. Trocmé’s research intent. It forms an important aspect of the Canadian Incidence Studies of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS), which he has led since 1997. A national surveillance survey designed to track child abuse investigations, CIS is currently in its third, five-year cycle, gathering data on 20,000 child abuse investigations conducted by more than 2,000 social workers in 125 sites across Canada. Researchers have already begun to plumb the rich veins of information acquired from the first 10 years. Its findings have helped power change through their use in international comparisons on multiple issues in child maltreatment, and their influence on the Québec Youth Protection Act in July 2007 (including the introduction of psychological ill-treatment as a major risk factor to a child’s security

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the critical need for knowledge in the area of child abuse and neglect by helping researchers study child welfare service trends over time and compare policies and impacts between jurisdictions. It promises to become the central repository for child welfare data in Canada. Currently it houses the 10 research datasets obtained from the periodic cross-sectional CIS. Most research conducted to date on the CIS has been descriptive. With the establishment of the data lab, researchers can now compare the impact of child welfare policies and programs between provinces and territories and over time. But for this type of comparison to be done, some professional training in statistics needs to take place. Social workers are not generally trained in statistics. Graduate programs typically don’t include classes on codebooks, links, weights, and analytic procedures, the necessary tools, for example, for comparing child welfare court use in Québec, Ontario and Alberta. Part of knowledge mobilization, however, involves making data more accessible. In order to make the data secured within the CCW Data Lab more available to stakeholders, a certain expertise in statistics is required. Thus Dr. Trocmé has begun to use the data lab as a training centre for academic, government and agency-based researchers.

private correspondence (email), J. Craig McNaughton to Jo Ann Lévesque, January 16, 2009 Centre of Excellence for Child Welfare website:



Besides housing the CIS datasets, the data lab may one day soon also secure certain administrative databases, which are being developed to measure a set of 10 key indicators for tracking the impact of child welfare services. These outcome indicators were developed as part of the National Outcomes Matrix (NOM), a team project also led by Dr. Trocmé, through a national consultation process funded by provincial and territorial child welfare authorities and Human Resources Development Canada. Like multiple brushstrokes, the 10 outcome indicators – recidivism, serious injuries, grade level, child behaviour, placement, time in temporary care, placement stability, parent functioning, family stability, and community engagement – will be used to gather information to fill in our understanding of the national child welfare landscape. PARTNERSHIP WITH BATSHAW

The feasibility and utility of these outcome indicators have been demonstrated under the aegis of the McGill-Batshaw KIS program, entitled The Evidence-Based Management (EBM) Study. Assisted in his application for funding by the Office of Research Opportunities, Dr. Trocmé sought support to test the feasibility of a focused research mobilization strategy that would bring together clinicians, managers and researchers to integrate the best available evidence at all levels of policy and service delivery decision-making.5 Besides Batshaw, his partners include the Centre of Excellence for Child Welfare, l’Institut de Recherche pour le Développement Social des Jeunes, the Association des Centres Jeunesse du Québec, and the Alberta Ministry of Children Services. The relationship that now flourishes between the Trocmé team and the Batshaw team led by Claude Laurendeau (photo, top right), Director of Professional Services at Batshaw, represents an exciting chapter in the history of knowledge mobilization, as they have worked together to create a strong agency-based research culture. From the start, it was clear to Dr. Trocmé, that in order for knowledge mobilization to accomplish the goal of establishing a research culture, the research strategy “must be driven by questions that managers and clinicians

Lorry Coughlin Elizabeth Zeeuw

are faced with in their day-to-day activities; “I envision the day where the material generated and the work responses to these questions must be prodone in the various groups will strengthen our ability to vided in a timely fashion (weeks or months, incorporate evidence into decision making. Although this will not years); and these responses make as not happen overnight, there is much potential for evidencemuch use as possible of local expertise and based management to promote continuous quality improvement information, avoiding wherever possible time to our service delivery in a variety of areas, including but not consuming and resource intensive suppleexclusively conjugal violence, sexual abuse, and permanency mentary data collection procedures. In other planning. This project may well constitute a major step words, the research to practice feedback loop to reaching the goal of developing a culture, where the use of must be timely, relevant and local.”6 evidence becomes an integral part of service delivery.” Dr. Trocmé and McGill researchers, CLAUDE LAURENDEAU which include graduate student Elizabeth Fast (photo, bottom right), decided to begin with the 80 or so managers at Batshaw. BATSHAW CLINICAL EXPERTISE Their goal was to support these individuals actually occurs and in what circumstances. The second form of evidence, that of capturin making a shift to tracking client outcomes Then we write up a report which is ing the clinical expertise of staff members rather than service processes; for example, transmitted to senior management.” and making it available to help monitor the to reduce rates of recidivism or increase the To ensure the success of the Clinical Voices quality of programs, is an invaluable but stability of foster placements, rather than Group, Dr. Trocmé called on the expertise underutilized form of evidence. Dr. Trocmé monitor waiting lists or timeframes for of ORO’s Dr. Jo Ann Lévesque, who describes it as “the kind of things people talk producing reports. To help accomplish this, became a key player throughout the process about in the hallway or around the water the manner in which the managers used (see editorial, page 4). cooler about the work they do, that may be evidence to improve their practice would ACADEMIC RESEARCH a useful way of identifying emerging issues have to change. The third level of evidence, academic and and problems or just plain good practices THREE FACES OF RESEARCH EVIDENCE evaluation research, involves developing that are particularly important.” EBM has focused on three kinds of evidence: rapid research literature search, retrieval and The difficulty with this form of informaclient and service information that can be summarizing methods in order to make the tion is getting it to senior managers. extracted from Batshaw’s administrative data; findings of relevant studies available Therefore, to make this potentially rich the clinical experience and expertise of in digestible form. To increase access and expertise available to Batshaw managers, the Batshaw’s staff; and formal academic and streamline the search and summarizing team developed the Clinical Voices initiative, evaluation research. The aim was to improve process, knowledge brokers are assigned to which Dr. Trocmé describes as “an iterative access to each of these types of research work directly with managers and frontline series of consultations and surveys designed in order to assist managers to use them in workers. Knowledge brokers, according to identify emerging clinical trends and their practice. issues.” In more informal terms, it works like to Dr. Trocmé, “assist Batshaw staff to access this: “We get a group of clinicians to identify and interpret relevant research literature, CLIENT AND SERVICE INFORMATION identify emerging practice models, and put what the particular issues are that they see Making the Batshaw administrative data coming across their desk and what they think staff in contact with appropriate experts.” accessible meant that the research team In the process, the knowledge brokers their managers need to know about them, would need to track various indicators of uncover needs, and share ideas and research such as the size of the problem and its service effectiveness (such as recidivism) that can help managers develop polices, repercussions. Then we help them document programs, and procedures that lead to the from Batshaw’s new computerized client this systematically through a survey method delivery of more effective services. information system. The indicators will that delineates how often this activity eventually be used by managers themselves to set measurable targets for agency-wide and team-specific improvements. One indicator being tracked in this manner, for “My experience with Dr. Trocmé and the EBM project helped the first time in Québec, is the number me to see that there is a place for research in child protection of disruptions for children in care, i.e. placeagencies and that work done by researchers will ultimately ment breakdown. This is absolutely essential help practitioners make the best possible decisions for children information if – as Dr. Trocmé and and families based on current knowledge.” committee colleagues are doing – one is to evaluate the impact of the recent changes to Québec’s Youth Protection Act. ELIZABETH FAST 5 6

Trocmé, Nico; Letter of interest for the SSHRC Knowledge Impact in Society Initiative (2005) ibid



EDITORIAL It hasn’t been easy to position these knowledge brokers. As Dr. Trocmé point out, “we have had to experiment with several models to find the best way to introduce them. One model that has worked well has been to organize groups of professionals with a common interest (for example, child sexual abuse) who get together to discuss the newest advances in the clinical and research literatures as well as to provide clinical consultation for colleagues. The participants include frontline social workers, managers, and people who work in the residential sector and in foster care. Then we add a knowledge broker to the mix. In one group, for example, it is a post-doctoral researcher, and in another, a professor.” WELCOME CATALYST

While it’s too soon to measure exactly the long-term impact of a knowledge mobilization initiative like EBM, it has certainly sparked attention. Among youth centres across Québec, for instance, an enormous amount of interest has been generated. Centres have expressed eagerness to participate in a project now seen to have results. And interest, no doubt, will continue to spread with the EBM publication entitled “In the Know,” which is designed to disseminate the various research summaries, information sheets, and article synopses produced by the EBM program participants. From Dr. Trocmé’s point of view, the EBM project “has been a wonderful catalyst for developing a solid long-term research partnership between Batshaw and McGill. Such partnerships can play the same critical role in supporting social work research and training as teaching hospitals play in supporting medical research and training.” It’s an interesting time to be working in groundbreaking child welfare research, thanks to the efforts of researchers like Dr. Trocmé. With the advent of the CCW Data Lab, situated in the independently funded Centre for Research on Children and Families at McGill, well-trained researchers, dedicated to improving the lot of children in this country, are – in Dr. Trocmé’s words – “free to develop projects in response to local community requests or larger provincial or federal initiatives on the basis of their policy relevance and scientific merit.” This is a vital advance in making measurable reductions in the abuse and neglect of children in Canada.

This winter’s edition of the ORO bulletin, with its coverage of the multi-faceted work of Dr. Nico Trocmé, speaks for itself. Nonetheless, I’d like to tell you a little about my direct experience as a collaborator in one of Dr. Trocmé’s projects, in this case the EBM project. In February 2007 Dr. Trocmé, knowing of my experience as a social worker with The Youth Offender Act and my Ph.D. on reflective judgment of social workers asked me to lead the Clinical Voices Group. You can imagine my excitement. We were asked to track the impact of the changes to the Youth Protection Act on the protocols for “Permanency Planning” as its priority. Besides myself and three McGill students the group was made up people from Batshaw. The group began in May 2007, with six months of consultation followed by two months of participation in the pilot testing and data collection. In the course of this period, the group identified its clinical concerns, condensed their concerns into relevant research questions, and validated them on 348 children being served by the Batshaw agency. In mid-October 2008, this first group of Clinical Voices produced a report which summed up the results of its consultation process, and which is being used to help inform the practices of Batshaw managers. My experience thus far with the Clinical Voices Group has served as a timely reminder of how important it is for successful and effective knowledge mobilization to not only listen carefully to the needs expressed by all those involved, but also to develop appropriate research and presentation tools. My group designed a questionnaire on-line, one that reflected the concerns of the group and which gathered useful results and statistics rapidly. In addition, several of our McGill students (including Elizabeth Fast) developed a series of models that could be used to present research results in a clear and thoughtful manner, thus facilitating discussion by all members of the group. We found that the transformation of complex materials into easier-to-understand information energized the whole process of knowledge mobilizaton. Those practitioners who responded to our questionnaire reported that they benefited enormously from the improvement in their understanding of their own and each other’s professional practices, since the research results related to many different aspects of service delivery, from case loads and types of consultation to the lack of information regarding clients and circumstances which prevented appropriate treatment in certain cases. For myself, I found that the way the Clinical Voices Group created a dialogue among the participants regarding their professional practices and the commitment and dedication these members of Clinical Voices brought to the process augur well for the future of evidence-based practice at Batshaw. Dr. Jo Ann Lévesque

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