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Testa speaks at White House conference on evidence-based research and social spending

President Obama has emphasized the importance of using rigorous evidence and evaluation to ensure that the government makes smart investments with taxpayer funds. A number of Federal efforts have been launched in recent years under the umbrella of evidence-based policy.

Through assessments like low-cost randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the government can analyze data about the success of different programs, thus enabling more informed decisions when allocating funds to maximize the positive impact of these programs in areas such as healthcare, education, and childcare.

On July 28, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy hosted a conference in Washington, D.C., on “Demonstrating How Low-Cost Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) Can Drive Effective Social Spending,”

The conference convened officials from the White House OSTP, Domestic Policy Council, Office of Management and Budget, Federal agencies, Congress, state/local agencies, philanthropic foundations, and leading social policy researchers to explore low-cost RCTs as an important new development in the effort to build credible evidence about “what works” in social spending.

UNC School of Social Work Spears-Turner Distinguished Professor Mark Testa was invited to speak at this event. Testa is currently conducting a low-cost, RCT of the Safe Families for Children (SFC) program. It is a program to prevent child abuse recurrence and removal into state protective custody by recruiting and overseeing a voluntary network of host families with whom parents can place their children in times of need. Founded in 2002 by Lydia Home Association, a Chicago based Christian social service agency, SFC partners with local churches, ministries and local community organizations to offer voluntary placement arrangements to families whose children are at risk of being removed from their custody by child protective authorities.

The two-year study will draw on existing administrative data from the Fostering Court Improvement project that is maintained at the University of North Carolina. It will rigorously test the impact of SFC in creating safe alternatives to child removal and foster placement. By randomly assigning families recommended for the SFC program to intervention and comparison groups, a high-quality rigorous evaluation can be conducted at low cost with existing data to measure the child welfare outcomes of children and families assigned to the SFC program compared to child protective services as usual.