Social Work Research on Faith-Based Programs: A Movement Towards Evidence-Based Practice

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1 Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 28: , 2009 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: print / online DOI: / Social Work Research on Faith-Based Programs: A Movement Towards Evidence-Based Practice KENNETH SCOTT SMITH, PhD Department of Rehabilitation, Social Work, and Addictions, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas MARTELL TEASLEY, PhD College of Social Work, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida Federal legislation now authorizes government funding for faithbased initiatives to carry out social welfare service programs. The authors review recent trends in evaluation research on faith-based programs by social workers. The authors discuss specific programmatic outcomes, limitations in faith-based research, trends in faith-based literature, and future research recommendation. We conclude that past research efforts by the social work profession are insufficient in the evaluation of faith-based services. Our contention is that greater research efforts will promote the development of evidence-based practice for faith-based organizations and the social work profession. KEYWORDS social work research, program effectiveness, faithbased organizations Academic scholars are paying more attention to trends in American social welfare policies that authorize the federal government to fund faith-based initiatives to carry out social welfare services (Cnaan, 2002; Mears, Roman, Wolff, & Buck, 2006; Monsma, 2004; Wineburg, 2001; Wuthnow, Hackett, & Hsu, 2004). In January of 2001 Executive Order authorized the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Received May 25, 2006; accepted November 11, Address correspondence to Kenneth Scott Smith, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Rehabilitation, Social Work, & Addictions, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

2 An Assessment of Faith-Based Social Work Research 307 (White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, 2003). Under this policy shift, faith-based organizations (FBOs) may access over 100 billion dollars from federal and state agencies (The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2003), with 350,000 religious congregations eligible for federal grants (De Vita & Wilson, 2001). Currently, within 151 federally administered programs at six federal agencies there are 1,968 grants awarded to FBOs, accounting for roughly 2 billion dollars (White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, 2005). More specifically, more than two-thirds of states utilize faith-based social services, and through the faith-based initiative the reliance on FBOs will surely increase (Karger & Stoesz, 2006). As part of this shift to faith-based initiatives, legislation from the Bush Administration terminated 65 federally funded programs and reduced 63 major programs within the 2006 fiscal budget (Allen & Baker, 2005). The rationale for termination was that the programs had no evidence of their effectiveness and that the increase of FBOs would fill this gap in service delivery because FBOs promote self-help and change for individuals who have a history of dependency on governmental social welfare programs and services. This sentiment was expressed in a 2003 document produced by the White House OFBCI (Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives), where it states that government may provide a sense of stability, but faithbased initiatives provide a sense of hope and instill purpose in the lives of people who receive their services. The positive affects of faith and religiosity are found throughout contemporary literature, but the effectiveness of social services provided by FBOs remains ambiguous (Goodstein, 2001). Scholars have not placed a great emphasis on evaluating the social service programs in place prior to Charitable Choice, and to assume that evidence-based practice is inherent within this movement only permeates the current problem (Monsma, 2006). The concern is that as the number of FBOs increases this leap forward, and reliance on FBO practices has been implemented with limited empirical evidence to support the efficacy of faith-based social services (Myers, 2002). Moreover, social welfare scholars are not sure in what capacity congregations are engaged in social service delivery (Cnaan, 1999), and as welfare services shift to FBOS, one must ask: Where is the social work profession? What role does the profession play in facilitating this transition to faith-based services? It is in the best interest of our clients and the profession to begin to track and determine the efficacy of FBOs in providing specific types of social welfare services so that clients receive the best services available. It is also important to identify what the profession has contributed to this movement and to determine directions for the future. Given this, a systematic review of current research efforts by social work professionals related to faith-based social welfare service programs are needed to determine the state of research efforts by social workers, types of research methodology, and futuristic research directions for the social work

3 308 K. S. Smith and M. Teasley profession and faith-based social welfare programs. In this article, the authors conduct a brief review of contemporary social welfare scholarship by social workers in an attempt to understand current trends in the evaluation of faith-based social welfare services. Our review is not meant to be exhaustive but to gain insight regarding recent efforts in the social work research literature that empirically evaluate social service programs that are implemented by FBOs. We acknowledge the growing body of literature found within refereed literature and textbooks by social work and other scholars and that by no means do we consider our review as symbolic of the total efforts undertaken by the social work profession in this area. Our position is that the assessment of social work professional literature published in scholarly journals regarding FBOs is necessary to gain some notion of the professions efforts toward the evaluation of faithbased services for the purpose of identifying best practices and building evidence-based knowledge. SYSTEMATIC RESEARCH METHODOLOGY The systematic research methodology (SRS) method was employed to identify the breadth of social work research evaluating FBOs. This methodology is useful when attempting to review an underdeveloped research issue (Larson, Pastro, Lyons, & Anthony, 1992) or provide an historical analysis of literary contributions (Klein & Bloom, 1994). This process included several steps. First, we determined keywords for our literature search using social work research, program effectiveness, and faithbased organizations as our criteria for inclusion. Next, we searched multiple databases from 1990 to 2007 using these terms to ascertain peer-reviewed articles. The following databases were included because they capture a vast amount of social work and faith-based literature: Psych Info, Social Service Abstracts, ERIC, ProQuest, JSTOR, Ovid full Text, Social Work Abstracts, ATLA Religion database, Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts, and Sociological Abstracts. Articles were flagged in three phases. The first phase included identifying empirical articles within the search results. Empirical articles were defined as any study that was qualitative or quantitative in nature. Next, we wanted to ensure that social workers conducted the research. It was important, given the focus of this article, to give an accurate depiction of social work s role in evaluating FBOs. This was determined by (a) the background of the authors and (b) the focus of the article. For instance, the author needed to be associated with social work either by degree or by institution. The article needed to focus on social work practice, research, or policy. Last, we examined the reference list from the pool of articles for supplementary sources. We obtained abstracts of

4 An Assessment of Faith-Based Social Work Research 309 the identified articles to determine if they empirically evaluated FBOs, if social workers performed the research, and if they addressed the social work profession. SUMMARY OF SRS FINDINGS Our systematic review identified 13 empirical studies by social workers that assessed FBOs. Table 1 provides a summary of the SRS analysis. Our review is consistent with other studies using the SRS method such as Ferguson, Qiaobing, Spruijt, and Dyrness (2007), who identified 29 articles. However, their review was broader than the social work research domain. The following discussion will highlight some of the findings from our investigation, with a specific focus on programmatic outcomes, secular versus nonsecular comparisons, the identification of limitations in FBO research, and trends in FBO literature. The discussion transitions to address research recommendations for the social work profession as it becomes more involved in social services through FBOs. Programmatic Outcomes Even though the prevalence of social work research in faith-based literature is limited, this synthesis acknowledges some key contributions from social work research. Research found that FBOs have a higher than expected presence in five types of services food, housing/shelter, other human services, civil rights, and recreation (Graddy, 2006). A study conducted by Roman, Wolf, Correa, and Buck (2007) determined that homelessness and level of spiritual change were the sole significant predictors for program completion, satisfaction, and progress. Conversely, this study also concluded that individuals who stayed in the program longer reported lower levels of religiosity and were less likely to report that a spiritual change had occurred. In a faith-based substance abuse program self-reported substance abuse decreased, reported HIV/STD risk decreased, and sexual partners among women decreased (MacMaster, Jones, Randolph, Crawford, & Edwin, 2007). In this same study client s average number of days paid for work doubled, amount of money spent on drugs decreased, and there was a significant decrease in anxiety and depression from 6 to 12-month follow-up. Campbell & Glunt (2006) reported that 42% of FBO clients had never received workforce development due to lack of transportation, language barriers, and fear of the government. In this same study, faith-based practices played a small role in service delivery. One study reported that spiritual activities, beliefs, and rituals were not a central part of the investigated faith-based program, while role modeling and having a safe environment played a central component in service

5 310 TABLE 1 Summary of Research Findings on Faith-Based Organizations Study Sample Research method / statistics Bielefeld (2006) 30 Indiana service providers Conducted interviews with administrators from 2001 to 2002 Evaluation criteria and study purpose Mixed methods Evaluation criteria: Phase I: Measurement battery: revenue, IMPACT contract amounts, number of agency and IMPACT employees and volunteers, faith-influence scale Phase I of study: Survey design 80% female Phase II of study: Preand posttest design for outcome evaluation Phase II: Attitudinal and behavioral impacts on clients of FBOs Study purpose: Program outcome survey Results Religion was a part of services received: 12% non-faith-based (NFB), 17% moderately faithbased (MFB), 11% strongly faithbased (SFB) All three program types showed no differences in self-image, high levels of self-assurance, no differences between types at posttest MFB most religious at start 80% non-white No control group SFB clients least likely to attend religious services at pretest Pre- and posttest design Small increases for SFB and NFB from pre- to posttest in terms of religiosity Strongly faith-based providers are small, have smaller contracts Limitations Unable to provide state differences Delivery systems changed Category of faith determined by director Low sample size, no psychometric assessment Nested effects, unusable pre- and posttest Limited to one state service area No statistics presented on comparisons other than frequency data Test administration difficulties

6 311 TABLE 1 Continued. Study Sample Research method / statistics Campbell & Glunt (2006) Ebaugh, Pipes, Chafetz, & Daniels (2003) 38 programs: 28 FBOs and 10 secular Secondary data set from California Community and Faith-Based Initiative 3 year evaluation Survey design and qualitative interviews Sent surveys to 170 executive directors in Houston Texas identified by the Coalition Homeless Service Directory, 89 responded (53 secular, 32 religious) Nonexperimental survey design Evaluation criteria and study purpose Evaluation criteria: Conducted field interviews with staff and participants to determine the overall fit into the network of services Study purpose: Surveyed organizations about programs and practices Evaluation criteria: organizational structure, mission, funding, leadership, practice, and culture Study purpose: Do FBOs differ from secular counterparts? Results 42% had never received workforce development due to lack of transportation, language barriers, fear of government Faith-based practices played a small role in service delivery CFBOs showed not to be as effective in job placement as the comparison group: 37% versus 69% respectively Self-identified secular organizations are easily identified while FBOs are inconsistent FBOs rely heavily on volunteers, more than half take religious affiliation into account when hiring Secular funding comes from the government and FBO funding from religious or private sources Both utilize secular expertise and input; religion is the main organizational difference Limitations California Employment Development Department (EDD) educated programs regarding sectarian activities impacting results of interviews Time lags in data reporting No random selection or assignment No psychometric properties on survey instrument Did not survey clients or staff No random selection or assignment

7 312 TABLE 1 Continued. Study Sample Research method / statistics Ferguson, Debir, Dortzbach, & Spruijt-Metz (2006) Los Angles: 22 staff, 11 clients from 11 FBOs Mumbai and Nairobi: 6 staff, 12 youth from 3 FBOs Convenience sample Evaluation criteria and study purpose Results Mixed methods: Evaluation criteria: FBOs All agencies across sites received and encouraged youth of all faiths Phase I: Identify possible FBOs with FBO criteria, interviewed directors Phase II: Quantitative surveys were administered and qualitative interviews were conducted Defined by (a) centered within a church or congregation, (b) focus on religion, (c) receive funding from a religious, (d) staff on board are religious clergy, (e) director is motivated by his/ her religion or faith, or (f) use faith in provision of services Qualitative interview: Changes in 7 dimensions: feelings, environment, status, skills, knowledge, behavior, and attitudes Study purpose: Which faith elements exist in faith-based programs for homeless youth and how these concepts are defined according to staff and youth Christian agencies: expressed faith more regularly, more likely to help in their sense of selfworth and belonging, more often tends to have people with a vision and desire to help troubled youth, and links clients with broader faith community Hinduism: deepen ties with faith practices that already exist Islam: link clients to a deeper commitment to knowledge of faith Youth reported feeling more confident and happy across sites Limitations Los Angles study conducted the year prior to the Mumbai/ Nairobi study Additional funding in Los Angles study Program director designated the strongest program to be included in the study: selection effects No psychometrics on quantitative survey Sample selection of sites not scientifically bound

8 313 TABLE 1 Continued. Study Sample Research method / statistics Graddy (2006) 3,461 service providers in Los Angles Secondary data analysis Evaluation criteria and study purpose Evaluation criteria: Comparing the types of services, delivery approaches, and service locations offered by different types of providers 11% FBOs Study purpose: To determine multiservice orientation, location, types of services offered, and delivery method 47% are secular counterparts Results FBOs helped youth to leave street environment, positive health outcomes across sites, changes in skills were comparable across sites Youth reported a reduction or elimination in alcohol and drug use FBOs carry out services in four key areas: providing a moral code of behavior, providing hope for the future, providing direction, and providing a structure that honors various faith traditions Secular nonprofit providers offer the largest number of services FBOs have a higher than expected presence in five types of services: food, housing/shelter, other human services, civil rights, and recreation Public organizations: social benefit, public protection, education, environment and animals, public safety, recreation, and job services 35% public For-profit: business services, health, and mental health 7% for-profit Limitations Different research teams at each site Selection of research assistants and training inconsistent across sites No randomization Unique to the community studied No hierarchical linear modeling used No random selection or assignment

9 314 TABLE 1 Continued. Study Sample Research method / statistics Grettenberger, Bartkowski, & Smith (2006) MacMaster, Jones, Randolph, Crawford, & Edwin (2007) Case studies were conducted on secular and FBOs 13,230 outreach contacts were made (over 3-year period), 193 individuals were served, 163 completed intake survey, 51 completed followup interviews Qualitative interviews with program staff, focus groups with clients Single-group design with repeated measures at program intake, and 12 months Evaluation criteria and study purpose Evaluation criteria: (a) transitional housing, (b) parent education, and (c) residential substance abuse treatment programs. Study purpose: Determine what problems exist when conducting efficacy studies with FBOS Evaluation criteria: Addiction Severity Index Results Definition of transformation varied Appropriate classification of the level of faith Comparing religious content across programs, obtaining adequate sample size difficult Specification of outcome variables, self-selection skews results, tracking clients, need clearer and measurable definitions of transformation Self-reported substance abuse decreased Limitations No description of sample size How many researchers conducted the interviews? What role did the staff interviewed have at the program? Adaptations to protocol allows systematic error No stats on survey data or psychometrics on the survey instrument Generalizability of findings are limited

10 TABLE 1 Continued. Study Sample Research method / statistics Evaluation criteria and study purpose Results Limitations Descriptive stats, ANOVA with three levels NIDA Cooperative Study Risk Behavior Assessment: drug use, HIV/STD risk behaviors Self-sufficiency: Brief Symptom Inventory Spiritual Well-Being Instrument Study purpose: Evaluate FBO that serves African Americans who use heroin Reported HIV/STD risk decreased Decrease in sexual partners among women Average number of days paid for work doubled Amount of money spent on drugs decreased Significant decrease in anxiety and depression from 6 to 12 month follow-up Increase in the number of individuals taking psychiatric medications No random selection or assignment Sampling bias, Small sample size Nested effects (HLM) Changes in selfreport No comparison between spiritual well being and at risk outcomes Monsma (2006) Surveyed 17 welfare-to-work programs in Los Angles County, categorized into government, forprofit, secular nonprofit, and FBO Logistic regression Evaluation criteria: Client evaluations of programs survey 26% of programs used soft skills, 12% mentioned hard skills No psychometrics 315

11 316 TABLE 1 Continued. Study Sample Research method / statistics Frequency data Neff, Shorkey, & Windsor (2006) Seven Central Texas treatment programs Survey design Concept Mapping Evaluation criteria and study purpose Assessed determinants of full-time employment at 6 and 12 months based on gender, race, employment status, number of workrelated skills, marital status, number of children, type of program Study purpose: evaluates program and highlights three major challenges of measuring program effectiveness Evaluation criteria: costs, funding, demographics, staff qualifications, number of clients, length of stay, services provided Results All four program types received a very helpful rating For-profit programs had a higher completion rate versus FBOs For-profit and faith-based programs were the most effective Being female or unmarried at 6 months and 12 months decreased one s chances of finding a job Participating in a for-profit increased one s chance of finding a job Core dimensions: Spiritual activities, beliefs, and rituals; safe, supportive environment; group activities and cohesion; traditional A&D treatment modalities; structure and discipline; role models ad mentoring; work readiness and referrals Limitations No report of statistical significance between program comparisons Small sample size Programs varied in length and intensity Nested effects of multiple site No random selection or assignment No random selection or assignment

12 TABLE 1 Continued. 317 Study Sample Research method / statistics Netting, O Connor, & Yancey (2006) Interviewed (N5 29 staff and N5 32 residents) 65 key informants from programs were interviewed from 15 programs (11 religiously affiliated and 4 located in congregations) Step 1: Two-dimensional nonmetric multidimensional scaling Step 2: Hierarchical cluster analysis Qualitative design based on the Corbin (1998) model Evaluation criteria and study purpose Core dimensions specified in results Study purpose: (a) identify core dimensions of treatment programs and (b) compare faith and traditional programs Evaluation criteria: Phase 1: Qualitative interviews Phase 2: Survey data Phase 3: More qualitative interviews Study purpose: what makes direct service programs faithbased? Results Spiritual activities, beliefs, and rituals was not a central part of programs Role modeling and safe environment were central Work readiness was less important in both residents and staff Themes transparent in staff and clients were a moral imperative to serve and an accountability to God Themes also include the influence of the faith mission on operations, a higher calling that motivated the founders, religious traditions, religious writings, a connection with the faith community, and how all of these themes impact the practices of the program Limitations Small sample size but appropriate given methods Length of stay Programmatic differences that could influence data No interview protocol to control for systematic error or inter rater reliability No random selection or assignment

13 318 TABLE 1 Continued. Study Sample Research method / statistics Evaluation criteria and study purpose Results Limitations Roman, Wolf, Correa, & Buck (2007) 63 men and 29 women Quantitative: Bivariate correlations, two-tailed independent t-tests, chisquare, and logistic regression Evaluation criteria: Program completion, self-rated progress, program process: satisfaction, faith and spirituality, psychological functioning, demographics, criminal activity, and substance abuse Study purpose: Assess outcomes for a faith-based residential program for substance abusing prisoners 32% did not complete program What programmatic elements influenced the faith of the prisoners? Average number of days for completers was 86.9 Number of days had a negative correlation with religious salience individuals who stayed in the program longer reported lower levels of religiosity and were less likely to report a spiritual change had occurred Homelessness and level of spiritual change were the sole significant predictors for program completion, satisfaction and progress Attrition No random selection or assignment Small sample size Lack of statistical power No follow-up Poor generalizability

14 TABLE 1 Continued. Study Sample Research method / statistics Evaluation criteria and study purpose Results Limitations Sinha (2006) Truant at risk youth ages (N 5 35) Mixed-method case study design Data gathered through interviews, focus groups, surveys, and participant observation Evaluation criteria: 32-item multidimensional measure of religiosity/spirituality Study purpose: Assessed change in four areas: peer and key relationships, use of free time, educational goals, and religiosity Youth who attend faith-based programs that provide a secular service did not find the program to be religious Positive peer dynamics were modeled by program staff High rate of youth attendance No physical altercations Youth who were more frequently involved with a religious congregation and had families involved reported that they were more religious Provides a number of practical applications for researchers regarding issues surrounding data collection, design, and methodology Programs evolved during research impacting results Modifications were made from the original survey but no psychometrics were provided Data collection problems (attrition) No interrater reliability on observation checklist Loss of CASI data, no quantitative info, no random selection or assignment 319

15 320 TABLE 1 Continued. Study Sample Research method / statistics Evaluation criteria and study purpose Results Limitations Unruh (2004) 15 case studies of Protestant congregations in the Philadelphia area Qualitative interviews, observations, and document collection Evaluation criteria: Explicitly religious is defined as including activities and verbal messages that are inherently religious Implicitly religious convey identity and meaning (program content, beliefs, and values) Study purpose: To determine categories of religious program elements Identify strategies for integrating religious elements Categories: Religious selfdescriptions, religious objects in the program environment, invitation to religious service/activity, prayer, use of sacred texts, worship, personal testimony, religious teaching/discussion, invitation to personal faith commitment Strategies: Implicit, invitational, relational, integrated-optional, integrated-mandatory No random selection or assignment Not a representative sample Interrater reliability of seven interviewers * FBO: faith-based organization

16 An Assessment of Faith-Based Social Work Research 321 delivery (Neff, Shorkey, & Windsor, 2006). Furthermore, Monsma (2006) found that for-profit programs had a higher completion rate versus FBOs, and participating in a for-profit increased one s chance of finding a job compared to attending a faith-based program. The results from the articles identified by this SRS are scattered, with some results showing positive signs of FBO involvement and others pointing to limitations. Regardless, the addition of faith-based programs is a positive movement and can be strengthened by discussing the shortcomings of current FBO research in an attempt to propel future research. Limitations of FBO Research This research synthesis poses numerous questions regarding the rigor of current FBO research efforts. Grettenberger, Bartkowski, and Smith (2006) identify seven limitations to FBO research: appropriate classification of the level of faith, comparing religious content across programs, obtaining adequate sample size, specification of outcome variables, self-selection skews results, tracking clients, and a need for clearer and measurable definitions of spiritual transformation. Each article struggled with one or more of these issues. Limitations occurred when data collection strategies altered in the middle of the study, introducing systematic error. Many of the studies examined had test administration difficulties and time lags in data reporting, and none of the research designs included random selection or assignment. Last, a number of studies either did not report or did not assess the psychometric properties of the measurement tool used to collect data. Literary Trends These limitations are understandable after a major policy shift. From this research synthesis, faith-based research can be parsed into two developmental research categories. The first category includes articles identifying aspects of faith-based programs, programmatic structure, funding sources, staff, and policies in an attempt to bring some foundation to future research. For example, researchers have established that FBOs differ when defining religious transformation (Grettenberger et al., 2006). Unruh (2004) determined that faith-based programs utilize the following mechanisms in an attempt to influence a spiritual transformation: religious self-descriptions, religious objects in the program environment, invitation to religious service/ activity, prayer, use of sacred texts, worship, personal testimony, religious teaching/discussion, and invitation to personal faith commitment. As for staff, FBO employees are typically volunteers (Ebaugh, Pipes, Chafetz, &

17 322 K. S. Smith and M. Teasley Daniels, 2003) who believe in a moral imperative to serve (Netting, O Connor, Yancey, 2006). The second category focuses on comparisons between secular and nonsecular programs. For example, Monsma (2006) surveyed 17 welfare-towork programs in Los Angeles County and found that for-profit and faithbased programs were the most effective with for-profit welfare-to-work programs having a higher completion rate versus FBOs. More than half of FBOs consider religious affiliation when hiring, and secular funding comes from the government and FBO funding from religious or private sources (Ebaugh et al., 2003). Finally, secular nonprofit providers offer the largest number of services (Graddy, 2006). Limitations of This Study We foremost acknowledge the limitations of this article s methodology, particularly the fact that findings cannot be generalized to the breath and depth of research on faith-based social services within scholarly social work journals. There are surely additional social work research journals that contain empirical articles on the topic that we did not encounter in this cursory review. Furthermore, it is noted that, perhaps, a vast amount of executive reports and evaluation outcome studies go unpublished; many can be found via institute reviews and reports and through Internet Web sites. The continuation of research syntheses on FBOs can reduce these limitations through adding further critiques, thus helping to establish a research foundation. We make some recommendations toward future research for social workers designing, implementing, and participating in faith-based social services. FUTURE RESEARCH RECOMMENDATIONS One of the outcomes from our concise review of literature is the lack of research that identifies specific programmatic mechanisms that enhance client outcomes. What about faith-based programs works? One of the main tenets of program evaluation is to identify the effectiveness of procedures utilized by programs, provide accountability, and determine if underlying program objectives are being carried out (Royse, 1999). If the basic theories influencing the mechanisms within a program are not assessed, results may be influenced by other internal or external factors. Program evaluation is needed to address some of the conceptual gaps and inconsistencies within the research of FBOs. One potential solution is the utilization of the confirmatory program evaluation model. The implementation of a CPE allows the researcher to evaluate programmatic effects through a systematic process of program analysis

18 An Assessment of Faith-Based Social Work Research 323 (Reynolds, 1998). This methodology offers a template for FBO research, providing the structure to assess the faith aspect of service delivery within FBOs. This evaluation process promotes the assessment of theory, thus highlighting the intended purpose of the program. Research aims are difficult to answer within FBOs due to the lack of conceptual literature and inconsistencies within the definitional links between theory and practice (Myers, 2002). The CPE process assists in pinpointing the theoretical mechanisms that associate with program outcomes, and if the identified pathways leading to the desired outcome are consistent with the theory and operation of the program, causal inference is strengthened and the coherence of the program-outcome relationship is supported (Reynolds, 1998, p. 211). If the conduits do not lead to theoretical variables, alterations in concepts and program procedures may be used to enhance the program s theory as well as the delivery of services. This process would allow social workers the opportunity to assist in the formulation of theoretical constructs and program procedures in their assessment of FBOs, which could then be transferred into evaluation criteria. Ultimately, this would inform current and future programs on best practices thus improving service delivery. Next, research has not identified what aspects of faith influence outcomes: While research has illuminated what services congregations provide, less information is available about the role religion plays in their provision (Unruh, 2004, p. 317). Is it the number of times one attends church services, is it prayer, or is the combination of spiritual events that influences our clients? Likewise, the question of conceptualizing and operationalizing what is meant by faith or spiritual transformation has emerged as a paramount issue for scholarly investigation. To illustrate, there are a wide range of activities considered faith-based such as Bible study, worship services, religious seminars and retreats, and fellowship gatherings all of which can be offered by diverse denominations of difference sizes with varied beliefs on what constitutes faith (Mears et al., 2006). This definitional uncertainty has fostered a lack of validated measures and must be the focus of greater attention in research methods and practice evaluation. Social work scholars will need to take on the challenge of constructing, operationalizing, and developing reliable and valid measures that capture the essence and multiplicity of what is meant by faith within a given social service context. The future of faith-based literature will require multiple clear and concise definitions of theoretical constructs so that a repository of available measurements that capture the faith aspect of FBOs may be developed for the social work knowledge base. Social Work Social policy experts claim that the development of faith-based initiatives and programs has been introduced with little consideration for the capacity

19 324 K. S. Smith and M. Teasley of the private sector to handle the task of systemic social welfare delivery (Karger et al., 2006). Moreover, Modesto (2003) maintains that FBOs do not have the time, resources, and luxury to design and conduct self-evaluation. Yet, in an era of high fiscal accountability for social welfare services, faithbased program administrators will be required and challenged to develop evaluation and research methods that can provide support for their mission and evidence of their effectiveness (Karger & Stoesz, 2006). As such, the social work profession and its involvement must strive to support FBOs through research efforts if such a broad social experiment should falter, the fallout will surely lay claim to an already tarnished research reputation for the profession. To this end, social work scholars call for a partnership between the programmatic needs of the faith-based community and the professions need to engage in social welfare practice accountability (Cnaan, 1999; Wineburg, 2001). This means the development of social work practitioners who are prepared for the demands of faith-based social welfare service administration and the production of scholarly research that documents programmatic efforts. We posit that the social work profession will stand as an instrumental link between the implementation of faith-based initiatives and the accountability of social service outcomes. Many social workers are employed by FBOs and stand to be an essential component in this transition (Cnaan, 2002); social service has its roots in charitable-voluntary agencies and social workers are often involved in the staffing, administration, and evaluation of these agencies (National Association of Social Workers, 2002, p. 1). Increased funding for faith-based initiatives may require the employment of more social workers who will be required to implement faith-based social services and stand accountable for practice outcomes and program evaluation (Cnaan, 2002). In addition, many social work education programs are revamping their research missions to focus more on evidence-based methods. CONCLUSION Throughout the history of the United States, faith-based programs have been monumental within the delivery of social services. The ebb and flow of religious involvement in public municipal social service programs appears to be on the rise toward greater involvement. The social work profession severed a great deal of its religious roots in the middle of the 20th century only to find that as social welfare policies and services are being shaped for the 21st century, the profession must move toward a stronger affiliation with faith-based services (Cnaan, 1999). Therefore, given the impinging level of social responsibility that may be transferred to faith-based social service programs, social work professionals must proactively anticipate their roles and responsibilities within this movement.

20 An Assessment of Faith-Based Social Work Research 325 This article does not suggest a shift in political ideology, nor does it question religious beliefs as an instrument for empowering people to engage in self-help. Instead, it provides a sounding board, calling for social work researchers to place greater efforts toward rigorous program evaluation and the peer-reviewed publication of findings toward the development of evidencebased practices for faith-based social services. The advent of greater utilization of faith-based social services should be of primary concern within the social work profession and particularly for social work education programs. The concerns highlighted within this article point to the lack of empirical data on the effectiveness of FBOs from the social work profession. More specifically, future research efforts will require a shift starting with evaluating the programmatic mechanisms that influence clients and moving to determining what aspects of faith programs relay positive results. There is a need for the social work profession to meet the challenge and opportunities brought on by the enactment of federally funded faith-based initiatives. We contend, as other scholars have supported (Abramovitz, 1998; Cnaan, 2002; Kennedy & Bielefeld, 2006; Mears et al., 2006; Monsma, 2001; Myers, 2002; Tangenberg, 2003, 2004; Wineburg, 2001), that there is a need for a progressive movement toward building a research foundation that may yield evidence-based practices for future faith-based initiatives. REFERENCES Abramovitz, M. (1998). Social work and social reform: An arena of struggle. Social Work, 43(6), Allen, M., & Baker, P. (2005, February 7). $2.5 trillion budget plan cuts many programs, domestic spending falls; defense, security rise. Washington Post. Retrieved April 1, 2006, from articles/a feb6.html. Bielefeld, W. (2006). Investigating the implementation of charitable choice. Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work, 25(3), Campbell, D., & Glunt, E. (2006). Assessing the effectiveness of faith-based programs: A local network perspective. Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work, 25(3), Cnaan, R. A. (1999). The newer deal: Social work and religion in partnership. New York: Columbia University Press. Cnaan, R. A. (2002). The invisible caring hand: American congregations and the provision of welfare. New York: New York University Press. De Vita, C. J., & Wilson, S. (2001). Faith-based initiatives: Sacred deeds and secular dollars. The Urban Institute (Seminar series). Retrieved on March 7, 2005, from user.harvard.edu. Ebaugh, H. R., Pipes, P. F., Chafetz, J. S., & Daniels, M. (2003). Where s the religion? Distinguishing faith-based from secular social service agencies. Journal for Scientific Study of Religion, 42(3),

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