Colorado State University to evaluate child protective services prevention programs

Note to Reporters: A photo of Marc Winokur and his team is available with this news release online at

A center at Colorado State University will help the Colorado Department of Human Services decide which programs to prevent child abuse and neglect are most effective.

CDHS has awarded a $1.4 million contract to the Social Work Research Center in CSU’s School of Social Work for the prevention evaluation project. The contract was awarded through a competitive bid process.

The project will focus on the processes, outcomes and costs of voluntary intervention programs offered by county human services agencies as a way to keep families out of the child welfare system. Marc Winokur, director of the center, is the principal investigator for the evaluation, which will last at least two and a half years. The co-investigators, also from the Social Work Research Center, are Helen Holmquist-Johnson and Rebecca Orsi.

Joining CSU’s Social Work Research Center in carrying out the evaluation are the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Center for Policy Research, a Denver nonprofit evaluation firm.

Many of the strength-based, family-focused interventions being assessed are aimed at getting help to those who need it – before the situation devolves into a child being removed from the home.

“Child welfare is in the prevention business now,” Winokur said. “This is meant to preserve families and work with them before they get into the system. Once you’re in the system, you’re likely to have worse outcomes.”

The four prevention interventions that Winokur and his partners will examine are:

• An expansion of the Nurse Family Partnership, a program in which a nurse visits the home of at-risk, first-time mothers to provide support services, from pregnancy through the child’s first two years. The evaluation team will assess efforts to increase collaboration with child welfare services, boost enrollment, and improve nurses’ knowledge and confidence in dealing with child abuse and neglect.

• SafeCare, an in-home parenting program that gives parents training in child health and safety as well as cultivating positive interactions with their kids.

• Colorado Community Response, an effort to refer families to community-based services in cases that are reported to child protective services but are screened out or closed after initial assessment.

• The Core Services Program, which aims to keep cases already in the child protective services system from becoming more serious, in situations where children are at risk of out-of-home placement or need services to maintain placement in the least restrictive setting possible.

The Social Work Research Center will produce annual reports during the study. Winokur said the project will include interviews with social workers and families at sites around the state where the interventions are offered.

The ultimate goal, according to Winokur, is to provide state officials with information that will help them decide whether to keep providing funding to the intervention programs.

The School of Social Work is housed in the College of Health and Human Sciences.